Anti-apartheid activist, prominent business leader and philanthropist Dr Mathews Phosa has been presented with the prestigious Award for Excellence in Leadership at the African Achievers Awards (AAA). The accolade was received at a gala dinner at the International Conference Centre in Abuja, Nigeria.
The award was bestowed on Dr Phosa in recognition of his immense contribution to the transformation of South Africa’s economy from being mainly white-controlled to inclusive. His exemplary leadership in politics and excellence in business have earned Dr Phosa widespread respect and admiration. The presentation of the award to Dr Phosa was the main highlight of the gala dinner.
He was amongst the first four African National Congress leaders chosen to start the negotiation process with the apartheid government. Dr Phosa’s considerable negotiation skills came to the fore when he played a key role in the peaceful political transition in South Africa from apartheid to democracy.
He is the third South African to be honoured by the AAA. Emeritus Archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu was presented with the inaugural African Achievers Award on 21 October 2011, in recognition of his fight for human rights, justice and peace, during his 80th birthday celebrations in London. Last year, former South African Cabinet Minister and current Chairperson of the African Union Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma received the Award for Leadership in Africa.
The African Achievers Awards, which are Africa’s version of the Nobel Prize, have also honoured African heads of state for excellent leadership. Former Malawian President Joyce Banda (2012), Ghana’s late President Professor Atta Mills (2013), and current President of Tanzania Jakaya Kikwete (2015) have all been acknowledged by the AAA for excellence in leadership.
In 1995, Dr Phosa was invited by former Nobel Peace Prize recipient, the late Elie Wiesel, to accept a PhD in Law at the Boston University, Massachusetts, United States of America.
“It is an overwhelming honour for me to receive this award. It is a privilege to follow in the footsteps of Archbishop Tutu and to be sitting next to him. I thank those who think that I deserve this award,” said Dr Phosa.
“This award is bigger than me. It represents a message of character, not only for me, but for all well-meaning South Africans and Africans that we must always choose the path of character as opposed to compromise. We must always stand and fight for good governance in both the public and private sectors and promote accountability, responsibility, and integrity when entrusted with power.”
Dr Phosa decried the abuse of power by some African leaders, who are clinging to power while the citizens of their countries are languishing in poverty.
“Our fixation with personal power is a major concern of mine. The late President Nelson Mandela walked away from power and became even more powerful because of it. Those who cling to power will always lose it, whether they stay in office or not. Heroes are made of the stuff of those who understand that personal and political power are two different things. Real leaders understand that selfishness needs to be replaced with selflessness,” he said.
Dr Phosa paid tribute to African leaders who are committed to clean governance, democratic rule, and improving the quality of lives of their fellow Africans. He said good governance was a significant contributor to reducing conflicts and political unrest on the continent.
“When people take up arms and go to war, no one benefits. We should avoid situations where our people despair and say that democracy is not working for them. We need clean governance with clearly defined terms of offices and presidential terms for leaders. The voice of the people must rule,” said Dr Phosa.
While Africa as a whole has been politically liberated from colonialism, Dr Phosa urged the continent’s leaders to liberate Africans economically.
“In marching towards this momentous goal, the big challenge will be to not fall into the trap of re-colonialising Africa through corruption, nepotism, despotism, and state capture. Such a second wave of colonialism would, in my view, be as bad as the first one when Africa was colonised politically and economically,” said Dr Phosa.
The AAA, which are Africa’s version of the Nobel Prize, have honoured African heads of state for leadership: former Malawian President Joyce Banda, Ghana’s late President Professor Atta Mills, and the current President of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete.
The highlight of the evening was a second award for Dr Phosa – a Lifetime Achievement Award for his role in the apartheid struggle, in helping to establish democracy and for his selflessness. Dr Phosa dedicated the Lifetime Achievement Award to the memory of Nelson Mandela, and challenged all Africans to live Madiba’s legacy.