There is nothing wrong with the character of the ANC cadre. There are no design flaws in and between the parts that make up the ANC, organisationally, provincially or nationally. Members and voters may quibble about the need to tweak the constitution of the party and torque up the policies, from time to time.
They may debate how best to modernise, they may debate the sins of incumbency and the vices of complacency. And yet, 106 years five months and nine days later, it can be said without fear of contradiction, that there is nothing wrong with brand uKhongolose. Except for the small matter of leadership!
At the heart of the troubles besetting the ANC at this time, is a failure of leadership. After the days of Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela, we have observed ANC leaders grow in their own sense of self importance.
We have seen how some ANC leaders have been buckling under the weight of their own big heads, swollen with arrogance. Some of these leaders have repeatedly shown the finger to both the ANC and the people who vote for the ANC.
We have seen the rise of “strong-man” leaders. While the post 2007 ANC constitution took away the power to appoint premiers from the state and the party president, it seems to have inadvertently enabled the emergence of “strongmen” like Ace Magashule, David Mabuza, Supra Mahumapelo and Jacob Zuma himself, to mention but a few.
Every province, every region, every municipality and every ANC branch seems to have its own caricature versions of strongmen and leaders – fearless, flamboyant, without scruples and allegedly captured.
In this regard, Zuma seems to lead by example. We now know a lot about this, thanks to the books of Basson (Zuma Exposed), Basson and Du Toit (Enemy of the People), Kasrils (A Simple Man) and Pauw (The President’s Keepers).
Writers like Feinstein (After the Party) and Pottinger (The Mbeki Legacy) might rightfully argue that Thabo Mbeki was a strongman too.
After all, was he not among those who oversaw the crafting of what his biographer, Mark Gevisser, has referred to as “the poisoned well of post-apartheid South African politics” – the Arms Deal?
Few were surprised when Zuma appeared outside court last week, flanked by the likes of Carl Niehaus, Supra Mahumapelo, Hlaudi Motsoeneng and Sihle Zikalala. Many more “beneficiaries” of the Zuma years might have wanted to be there with him, if the opportunity cost was not too high. Perhaps the widely reported “do not provoke me” statements from Zuma, issued twice in a week, were meant as much for his detractors as for potential “fence-sitters”.
Understood this way, the statements were probably neither a warning nor a threat. They were more like a call to worship. Going forward, Zuma court rally attendances may become an important metric of loyalty and compliance.
We seem to be moving forward to the past, in this regards. Remember how for three years, 2005 to 2008, Zuma worked the crowds to a frenzy outside the courts of the land?
Once again, we are seeing the classical Zuma tactics at work: the creation of a friends-of-Zuma-like inner group, the cultivation of ethnic sentiments, the turning of court appearances into mini political rallies, the re-enactment of Zuma the victim, who sings songs of war with wild abandon.
Among Zuma’s staunch backers in the 2005-2008 period, were the likes of Gwede Mantashe, Blade Nzimande, Matthews Phosa, Mathole Motshekga and Zwelinzima Vavi. Some became his fiercest defenders during most of his presidential years.
Over the 21-year period (1997-2018) in which Zuma was in power, it seems that there are few ANC leaders who have not at one time or the other, supported him. When he was elected deputy president of the ANC in 1997, Thabo Mbeki was on his side. Ten years later, Zuma elbowed Mbeki out of the party presidency. In 2009 Zuma danced his way into the Union Buildings. But not before he sent Mbeki into bitter early retirement during the eight days in September 2008, made famous by Frank Chikane’s book.
When Zuma was recalled in February 2018, he went out kicking and screaming. He is still kicking, and his scream reverberates from the Valley of a Thousand Hills to the rolling hills of Nkandla.
Let’s face it – today the Zuma- Ramaphosa fault line cut through the entire ANC, from top to bottom, twisting and turning from region to region, zigzagging from province to province.
Nowhere is this more so than in the ANC KZN Province, where Zuma and some local leaders, continue to provide the kind of failed leadership that is at the root of the current political problems in the party. In fact, it seems that two ANCs exist, not side by side; not yet. The two ANCs exist inside one another, host and parasite swopping roles by the hour and by the day.
If nothing is done, the ANC may soon multiply, amoeba style.
Between Sihle Zikalala, Mdumiseni Ntuli and Super Zuma, the ANC has some of the most talented and widely respected leaders in that province. If leaders held in such high regard by their followers cannot find it within and between themselves to provide the leadership in KZN, then Lord have mercy!
The problem of the ANC in KZN is not the absence of popular leaders; rather it is the absence of leadership, visionary leadership.
Up above the plains of rural KZN, above the mountains, deep into the blue skies that hover over the scenic coastal towns and villages, there is a big hovering imaginary banner.
On it is written an advert calling out for ANC leaders who can see beyond short-term gains of patronage and factionalism; leaders who can distinguish between the personal and the communal, the ethnic and the national, the ethical and the unethical.
Wanted in the KZN ANC structures are leaders who will think beyond their personal interests and the interests of their scarecrow heroes.
The province needs leaders who are capable of feeling compassion for those who are losing loved ones in the KZN political killing fields.
Recently, the SACP, through Blade Nzimande, demanded that Zuma should distance himself unequivocally from a pro-Zuma grouping called Mazibuyele eMasisweni.
Zuma issued assurances that he was not about to leave the ANC but cautioned that he should not be provoked. Yet both parties are approaching this matter in a rather minimalist and negative manner.
Surely more should be expected from a former leader of the ruling party and a former president of the country than mere denials and disclaimers? Surely he has to be part of the solution and not part of the problems in KZN or anywhere else in the country? That he may be stressed out due to the 16 charges of corruption, money laundering and racketeering that he is facing, is no excuse and no alibi! He has a life-long obligation to be a positive influence in his political party and a goodwill ambassador for South Africa, wherever he may be.
In a symbolic handover of the ANC to Nelson Mandela and the new leadership in Durban in 1991, Oliver Tambo said: “I have devotedly watched over the organisation all these years. I now hand it back to you, bigger, stronger, intact. Guard our precious movement.”
Can former president Zuma say that he has provided the kind of leadership that has guarded the precious movement, keeping it bigger, stronger and intact?
Similarly, the litmus test for the Ramaphosa leadership will not be his ability to meet his self-authored Thuma Mina milestones.
His real test will be his ability to rein in the warring factions that are threatening to rip the glorious movement apart.
It matters not how well Ramaphosa speaks at the gatherings of the Broederbond, now calling itself the Afrikanerbond. But it does matter whether he can mobilise the people of Marikana and Mpendle to vote for the ANC and not for the Mazibuyele eMasisweni political party, in 2019. Or else, Ramaphosa may become the first ANC president to lose an election since democracy.