History honours leaders who heed masses

This is it, folks. This is my last column for Sowetan.

This is it, folks. This is my last column for Sowetan.

In writing these columns I have learnt more than I could ever teach and have been given more than I could ever give. The hundreds of readers who sent in letters - published and unpublished - taught me more about the subjects I wrote than the books and newspapers I read. If this column has been a success, it was because of them and their interaction with it. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

The one regret I have is the time I responded in a manner that was low and offensive. Dumisani Hlophe, a former political analyst then working for the Gauteng government, responded to one of my columns - as he rightly should - and I in turn replied. Whether his letter was personal or not, I should not have been churlish. As one philosopher put it, when one puts one's thoughts in the public arena, one should expect to be challenged. To my opponent in that particular exchange, I apologise.

My colleagues at Sowetan have been fantastic. There have been many instances when I should have been fired, but they understood when I was wringing my hands trying to find a suitable subject or when my Internet connection went down.

I came to Sowetan after my newspaper, ThisDay, had shut down unceremoniously. Except for looking at other people's writing, I had not been immersed in writing myself. Sowetan, and in particular editor-in-chief Thabo Leshilo and features and Africa editor Doreen Zimbizi, gave me a chance to return to what is truly my first love.

The beauty about writing for Sowetan is that you can touch on anything. I have written about football, teenage pregnancies, celebrities and all manner of subjects. None was too precious for the Sowetan reader. None was too challenging.

The people who actually made this column are unknown to you, dear reader. They are called sub-editors in newsroom parlance. These are the people who put my words on a page, check for mistakes and ensure I do not make a fool of myself by making sure that my facts are correct. On numerous occasions, my reputation was saved by the eagle eyes of Euphony Legae and his colleagues as they worked on my columns. Sub-editors are the unknown heroes of the newspaper world. It is thanks to them that you are holding this newspaper in your hand. I will always be grateful to them.

Columnists tend to take themselves too seriously. They believe that because they write in a newspaper they are important. They think they influence things.

Actually, they do not. In my columns I have highlighted numerous issues that needed urgent action. Believe me, not many of those issues have been attended to.

So, as a columnist, I understand the limitations of this medium. But the experiences of other columnists elsewhere in the world have helped me grasp what happens when governments or those in positions of authority refuse to listen to voices outside of their own. They whither and they die.

"The masses are never wrong," said the late ANC president Oliver Tambo, pictured. He was right. Long after the preening, bombastic, misguided leaders have gone, the masses will always be there, highlighting their weaknesses and their wrongdoings.

The masses are never wrong.