Reuel Jethro Khoza – A Rare Breed of a Leader

Prof Tinyiko Maluleke1
2 October 2019, Melrose Arch, Johannesburg

One Hundred and Forty-Five Unforgettable Words

Smack in the middle of the text of the customary Chairman's Report section, of the Nedbank Group for the year 2011, is to be found a memorable group of words, totalling 145 in number. The Chairman’s report itself comprised 1836 words in total. But it is the 145 words that rose to the top, attracting mostly the ire but also some admiration from political and business leaders alike.

Khoza kicked off his 145 words, with a matter-of-fact observation about the emergence of “a strange breed of leaders who are determined to undermine the rule of law and override the constitution”. He also lambasted the “the putative leaders who, due to sheer incapacity to deal with the complexity of 21st century governance and leadership, cannot lead”.

Those words stung like a swarm of bees. And those whom the Khoza cap fitted, he let them wear it. And they wore it, thoughtlessly and shamelessly.

At another time, in a different occasion, I might have proceeded to give you the gory details of the savage attacks that rained on poor old Reuel Khoza as a result of his 145 words at the time. But I will spare you all of that today. Ironically, none other than Nelson Mandela himself, may have foretold what would happen when in 2005, seven years ahead of the 145 words, he said the following of Reuel Khoza: “Reuel has been a prophet in his own country. But, as the saying goes, he has not always been honoured2 ”.

It was not so much the 145 words themselves that troubled people who chose to be troubled by them. No. It was Khoza’s perceived temerity to utter them in the first place, to do so in that precise way, at that precise moment and in the context of a corporate annual report – a report that is supposed to contain only numbers and graphs depicting company costs and benefits.

In similar fashion in 1963 in the USA, when the Ku Klux Klan wantonly murdered Medgar Wiley Evers in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, and when four black girls were killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing in Birmingham Alabama, the mercurial Nina Simone reacted with a furious, frantically fast-paced angry song titled: “Missisippi Goddam”. And everybody said: “Amen! “Mississippi Goddam” - this is exactly how we feel! We just lacked the words and the courage”.

Similarly, in 145 pithy words, Khoza uttered what many were thinking but lacked the words, he expressed what millions were feeling, but lacked the courage and the elegance with which to give vent to their feelings.

A Pragmatic Problem-Solver

Though his gaze reaches far, Khoza’s feet have remained firmly planted on the ground, for the longest time. For this reason, Khoza is seldom content with mere comment or sheer lament. Although he is a man of breath-taking imagination, he is quintessentially, a problem-solver, a business man, who is driven by a high work ethic, love for people, country and continent. There is therefore, necessarily, a sense of pragmatism – Khoza calls it pragmatic idealism3 - that cuts through his life and work4. This approach to life and to business has been the hallmark of the Reuel Khoza way.

A Herdboy In Search of Ethical Business

In his preface to Reuel Khoza’s Let Africa Lead, Thabo Mbeki correctly observe that the Khoza approach “has two main thrusts: moral and economic5 ”. Combined with an enthusiasm for the cultivation and the exercise of transformational leadership6, the dialectic of the moral and the economic, seem to form a golden thread in the revolutionary thought of Reuel Khoza.

If the rich notion of Ubuntu is the great reservoir from which Khoza draws ethical lessons and moral principles, his own character was formed in the lessons bequeathed to him by his parents, his rural childhood as well as his many roles in corporate South Africa7.

It is true that I used to herd my grandfather’s cattle in the veld … my grandfather, a lay-preacher-turned-herbalist, espoused a strong value system. …We had to wake up at dawn, check on the cattle, draw water from the neighbouring fountain and report back at sunrise. Then it was school8.

This then is the crucible in which Reuel Khoza’s character was formed, where his love for hard work, his sense of responsibility and leadership were developed. It is admirable that Khoza always made a point of acknowledging the inspiring role of these humble beginnings in making him the astute and ethical business and higher education leader that he became. This was his formative context.

An Alchemist in search of Idealistic Africa

For Khoza, Africa and Africans matter. He has firmly and consistently lived and believed that Africa can lead9. For him therefore Africa is in not out there, but it is in here. Africa is not ‘them’ but it is “us”. Africa is not fiction10. It is in this sense that, throughout his career, Khoza has insisted on the necessity of building an Africa,

…where the hallowed teachings of our ancestors will direct us how to live our lives now and plan for the future. In this Africa there is no conflict between relational logic and economic logic. …The ideal Africa is one that has successfully translated its concepts of humanity and communal relations into cooperative models of government, institutional and individual relations – right across the continent, not just in patches. Its intellectuals are nurtured by native founding principles and a spirit of insatiable inquiry. Its industries are fuelled by native technology and skills. Its airwaves and media are dominated by native concerns, images and aspirations11.

In this quote, we encounter Ruel Khoza the African optimist, the alchemist of imagination - the business man who consistently rejects business without ethics.

A Rare Breed of Leader

I opened my brief and eclectic tour into the picturesque thought-landscapes of Dr Reuel Khoza by making reference to his revolutionary 145 words of 2011/2012. Khoza was correct to suggest and in some ways to foresee that we do live in the era of a “strange breed of leaders” in our country, on the continent, in Europe East and West, in Asia and in North America.

However, we can take comfort in the secure knowledge that in Reuel Khoza, we have, not a ‘strange breed of a leader’, but rather, a rare breed of a leader. Rare is the leader who insists that Ubuntu and wealth-creation belong together. Rare is a leader who sees economics and the business enterprise as a tool for the advancement and protection of human dignity. Rare is a leader who insists that Africa and Africans have what it takes to meet the challenges of the 21st Century, without pretending to be anyone else.

A Gift from the Ancestral Spirits

Somewhere in the first third of his Let Africa Lead book, Khoza revisits the idea of African ways of interpreting reality – the hermeneutic method, as he calls it – and how the teachings of his grandfather introduced him to this method. There, he notes the following:

In those days Christian missionaries and teachers frowned upon the serious study of indigenous beliefs and practices as a reversion to primitive ways. Grandfather did not mind; he carried on, and much of what he communicated in word and deed sank into my impressionable mind. He validated our culture, which was under serious attack. I have never relinquished the sense of pride and identity that came to me as a boy, like a gift of the ancestral spirits12.

Just like Reuel considered the teachings of his grandfather as a gift from the ancestors, we too consider Reuel Jethro Khoza our own gift from the ancestors.

There is therefore no doubt in my mind that none, other than the man of the moment himself, Dr Reuel Jethro Khoza will appreciate my desire to conclude my brief reconnaissance in Xitsonga idiom. Xitsonga culture and people, like all African culture have been consistently demonised and continue to be scorned by the elite and the so-called educated and their children.

Shortly after arriving in the mission field, the most influential missionary among the Vatsonga, Henri-Adolphe Junod13, described Xitsonga culture and music in the following disparaging manner:

It is night. In the pagan village neighbouring the [mission] station one hears horrible noises. … sometimes dominated by a strange cry, like the wailing of a child. Then whooping, howling, all the most hideous noises of which the human throat is capable. When shouting calms a little, the voices of young boys or women intone a sort of song without melody in which violent inhalations and guttural sounds abound. What a concert! …14.

Nsumo Na Nsomo

Manuku-ke, ndzi nga si na ya tindzava, ndzi nga si bohelela fundzu ra nsomo, mi ngo ni ngulunguja nomu, ndzi ta kota ku nghena ena nsumo ndzi lo nchaa!

Ndzi lava ku rhanga hi ku tisweka phungula mhe n’winyi, ni ta suka rikumba-dzedze. Ni ku ti titlhavela makanja ndzi ta suka mabadi. Hi nga ni lekelelani eku ya khwaja-khwaja marito ya ku pangalata Rhuwele, jaha ra ka Ripanga. A mi ndzi laviseni marito laya nene, lawa yo leha na lawa yo koma, yo bumbula ni lawa yo lala, yo ondza na lawa yo nona, ivi mi ni khomisa hi ya longoloxela hi vurhon’wana ya kala ya ku thwiiii, ya kongoma kwale xiluvelweni xa Ripanga lero xeka homu na rhole. Ndzi lava ku phata Rhuwele a kondza a phateka, mi ta sala mi n’wi phatulula n’wina.

Exivindzini xa munti wa Arthur City, le xitasini xa kereke ya Sembhelela na ya Nazareta, kwale Manombheleni, le kaya eBushbuckridge, ko na swi pfuketani kwale mpfungwe, ko wa xiphongho xa xidzwele xi ku mhe! Leswi swi humelerile ekuheleni ka N’wendzamhala hi lembe ra gidi makume nkaye na makume mune-nkaye.

Yiiiiiih heh Weeeehh!

Hi loko Rhuwele a ta ku ga! bya gayisa. Yena ndzumulo ya rhumbu ra Sindisani, N’wa-Jikisoni ntombhi ya ka Nkwinika lowa nkata Masaswivona Pius Khoza – wa Mbhayimbhayi wa Tshova-nkanyi wa N’wamagenge. Mavona-kule na le kusuhi. Yena wo vona valala va nga si humela. Yena mahora nsisi hi ngati ya valala.

N’wina va ka Khosa, ngopfu wena N’wa-Theledi nkata-Rhuwele, na n’wina vana, Nkateko na Munene, xikan’we ni vatukulu, ha mi khensa loko mi kurisile tata wa n’wina a kula a kondza a ku tani, a ninginisa minkuhlu, minkanyi na swimuwu. Leswi namuntlha mi hi vonaka, lavo kota hina, hi ri karhi hi rholela mihandzu ya kona.

Mina a ndzi kanakani leswo makwenu Muchaveleri Martin, na N’wa-Jacksoni ntombhi yaka Zitha na Masaswivona nuna wa kona, na hahani Katrina Saleleni, na vakokwa wa n’wina hinkwavo, va karhi ku ti ba swifuva hi rharhi wa n’wina, seniya va nga kona, le Khoseni, halahaya ka sirha.

Parting Shot

The song I am about to sing comes from a different era and a beautiful musical idiom which is in danger of going extinct – if we are not vigilant. You will not find this musical idiom either in choral music competitions nor in church hymnals. Through this musical genre, the Vatsonga used to highlight important social issues in society and to transmit important messages from one village to another, one generation to the next. This is a musical style pregnant with satire, story-telling techniques and the tools of lament and wonderment. If you listen intently to the notes and not merely to the words, you may hear the trumpet of Miles Davies, Dizzy Gillepsie, the guitar of Philip Tabane, the drum of Mabi Gabriel Thobejane and the sound of the Marabi Penny whistle, far away in the background of your imagination.

With this song, I honour the memory of the grandfather who raised Dr Khoza and taught him to love his culture. With it, I challenge all of us to keep digging for the rich cultural resources whose elegant appropriation is a necessary step in the African march to true freedom.


Whe N’wamagenge haaah
U fambe ka njhani Manhombeleni wena

Rhumelani vanhoo haaah
Lava yaku Joni ka valungu
Va byela Rhuwele n’wananga
A nghwetlisa a vuyooo
I tlhontlhe nyimpi a tsutsumoo
A nga ka a nga poni n’wananga
Làva ka Maswanganyeee
Á va kwatangi hiyooo haah
Ongeti Rizuzu n’wananga
Ri ndlhula ndleleneee
A ndlhul ‘a kandziyooo
Wa nga vuya nyanoo Rhuwele
Masiku manharhu n’wananga
Hi ya khumela
A ku khumela i homu na mbutee
Iyhoooh a va na risizi kwalanooo
Xìkhalamazula xa mina majaha
Xikhalamuzula xa mina bava
Ha ku saseka ka xonoo
Ni boha nhlokwenee
Na nkayela mani swa fanoo
Va ka hina ma ri vona bomboo
Xi gange matiko hinkwawo lexi
Xi gange matiku hinkwawo
Ko sala ka Mhinga ku nga kule
Kambe xi ta ya fikoo
Xi zule matiko hinkwawo lexiwa
Xi zule matiku hinkwawo
Ko sala ka hina ku nga kulee
Kambe xi ta ya fikooo
Mhani wa Tirhela tirhela majaha
Mhani wa Tirhela tirhela
Wo teka xifula xa wen’
Kambe i ngo dlaya na mhani wa wenooo
Mhani wa Tirhela tirhela
Mhani wa Tirhela tirhela
Wo teka xifula xa wena’

U ta dlaya mana wa wenoonooo

He Mfana! Xi na mayeza mfana xi na mayeza
He Mfana! Xi na mayeza mfana xi na mayeza
Rhuwele! Xi na mayeza mfana xi na mayeza
He Mfana! Xi na mayeza mfana xi na mayeza
Mbhayimbhayi! Xi na mayeza mfana xi na mayeza
Tshova-nkanyi! Xi na mayeza mfana xi na mayeza
N’wamagenge! Xi na mayeza mfana xi na mayeza
Rhuwele! Xi na mayeza mfana xi na mayezzzooooooo, haaaaaaah!

1Prof Tinyiko Maluleke is a Senior Research Fellow and the Deputy Director of the University of Pretoria Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship.

2Nelson Mandela, 2005. Preface. Reuel J. Khoza. Let Africa Lead. African Transformational Leadership for 21st Century Business. Johannesburg: Vezubuntu, p. xxviii

3Reuel J. Khoza. Let Africa Lead. African Transformational Leadership for 21st Century Business. Johannesburg: Vezubuntu, p.70.

4Reuel J. Khoza. 2005. Let Africa Lead. African Transformational Leadership for 21st Century Business. Johannesburg: Vezubuntu.

5Thabo Mbeki. 2005. Preface. Reuel J. Khoza. Let Africa Lead. African Transformational Leadership for 21st Century Business. Johannesburg: Vezubuntu, p.xii.

6Reuel J. Khoza 2011. Attuned Leadership. African Humanism as Compass. Penguin: Johannesburg

7Reuel J. Khoza 2011. Attuned Leadership. African Humanism as Compass. Penguin: Johannesburg, p. xxiii-xxxix.

8Reuel J. Khoza. 2005. Let Africa Lead. African Transformational Leadership for 21st Century Business. Johannesburg: Vezubuntu, p.29.

9 “If not us, then who? If not from Africa, then whence? If not now, then when? If not for Africa and humanity, why not? Let Africa rise to this quintessential challenge. It is our date with destiny” a poem he wrote aboard a plane to Davos, Switzerland in 2005.

10See Wole Soyinka on the fictionalization of Africa in his 2012 book, Of Africa, published by Yale University Press

11Reuel J. Khoza. 2005. Let Africa Lead. African Transformational Leadership for 21st Century Business. Johannesburg: Vezubuntu, p.250

12 ibid, p.73 and 74

13Junod is, amongst others, the author of the two volumes titled The Life of a South African Tribe.

14In Patrick Harries. “Under Alpine Eyes. Constructing Landscape and Society in Late Pre-colonial”. Paideuma: Mitteilungen zur Kulturkunde, Bd. 43 (1997), pp. 171-191 (p.171).

15 In my attempt to sing the song, I acknowledge the mentorship of teacher, author and cultural activist, Mr Nghetlenge Case Ngoveni, a man from Jopi, N’wamitwa Village. Having committed this song and many similar songs to memory, from the times of his childhood in the village, under the tutelage of his late grandmother, Ngoveni has become an admirable preserver of this art form. I have taken some poetic licence to slightly adapt the song for the occasion of honouring Dr Reuel Khoza.