I can proudly say, it’s done…accomplished at the age of 65!
These were the words of PhD graduate, educationist and leadership expert Dr Delani Mthembu at the culmination of his doctoral journey.
With age being nothing but a number for Mthembu when it comes to education, achieving a doctorate in leadership studies at a senior stage in his life was an important milestone not only in his role as the former Director for Leadership Development at N2Growth Africa – consistently ranked by Forbes as a top executive search firm and now Executive Chairperson, DelaniM International – but also in his work as an educator and tutor.
‘I was motivated for this hard and challenging journey by my students,’ said Mthembu. ‘I have tutored and delivered presentations at various prestige universities and my students and others continue to call me Dr or Professor. In my inner being, I vowed never to disappoint the respect and honour they give me and quietly continued to study.
‘The doctoral degree stimulates me to make further contributions to the knowledge space and conversations about leadership and provide support to school leaders who struggle to perform,’ he said.
In his research titled: School Leadership in South Africa: Towards Embedding Presence for Principals for the Creation of Societal Value, Mthembu explores the challenges and impact of school leadership. The study, supervised by Professor Bibi Zaheenah Chummun, argues for the need to support principals in South Africa’s post-democratic dispensation.
‘What was really rewarding in the research I did was to see school leaders excited and inspired as they achieved school improvement, and turnaround achievements. In my research I had to accept that I was not an expert in every field and that many younger people within family and outside could be my mentors, especially in technical research areas,’ said Mthembu.
He aims to contribute to South Africa’s continual search for solutions and frameworks to improve schooling.
‘The leadership framework that I have provided is in a three-legged pot shape that is cyclical rather than linear. It represents an African form of exploration, expression and design that show strength of collective and collaborative partnership. My qualification is not the end of the journey but the foundation for further dialogue, conversation, inquiry, and application in a transformative and developmental South African society. In my engagements with a selected principal and a sample of NGOs working in schooling, I was thrilled to realise that our South African Constitutional principles and values dominate what defines a school.’
Mthembu thanked his supervisor, Chummun, for her continued support, mentorship, and guidance, his family for understanding when his studies forced him to sacrifice spending time with them, and God for all the blessings.
Words: Thandiwe Jumo
Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan