The major question facing South Africa in 1994 was: How to prevent us from killing each other long enough to have the seeds of mutual co-existence take root. The ANC’s response to that leadership question was Nelson Mandela and his feel good rainbow-isms.
The major question thereafter was how we build enduring local institutions. Also, how do we re-integrate South Africa back into the global economy, and global socio-political structures? The ANC’s response to that question was Thabo Mbeki and his technocratic tendency.
The major question facing South Africa … ah forget it! The ANC’s answer was Jacob Zuma. But wait. What was the question to which the answer is Zuma?
A superficial analysis of the above seems to suggest that the ANC seeks a leader who embodies its policy resolutions. That is, someone who embodies its answer to the question it faces at a point in time. Such an analysis would further suggest that the ANC implicitly accepts that an individual who speaks to its resolutions can enhance and complement the implementation of its programmes. It would suggest that the ANC believes that individuals matter.
However ever since the Zuma presidency the ANC has been ever more strident that individuals do not matter. That is, it is rather the collective that matters. But this is utter nonsense. Why? Exhibit A: Jacob Zuma. He is proof beyond reasonable doubt that individuals matter.
The centrality of the ANC in my analysis, of leadership requirements for the country, is primarily because of our party political system and the centrality of party politics in determining the leadership of the country. For the foreseeable future any questions surrounding how South Africa should approach the leadership question must necessarily deal with how the ANC approaches this question.
As highlighted in Episode II the national question currently facing South Africa is: What must be done about the inequality bequeathed on blacks by our history? I am of the opinion that South Africa is on the precipice of major, nationwide protests because of our inequality. More specifically, our inequality manifests by denying people access to opportunities to acquire education. Our inequality manifests in denying people access to opportunities to get jobs. Our inequality manifests in denying people access to opportunities to succeed in jobs. By access to opportunities I mean opportunities that recognise our historically bequeathed inequality – that is, opportunities with memory.
In addition the national question (on black inequality), the other challenge facing South Africa is the rebuilding of our institutions and re-nurture of public confidence in them. This is part of undoing the damage that the Zuma presidency has wrought on them.
In order to unearth a calibre of leaders to embody solutions to the above national question(s), the following issues necessarily present themselves. Has the ANC drafted a leadership manifesto for what it deems the theme and requirements of the next leadership corps? Is there a transparent, internal system to identify such a leadership corps before internal party elections? Is there a corps of leaders that the ANC has identified to take up this challenge? Has the ANC designed a programme of experiential exposure to facilitate the readiness of this corps to take over?
Given the haphazard, hit-and-miss manner the ANC has evolved to answer its leadership questions, it would seem the answer to all of these questions is NO.
The natural answer to this criticism is that you cannot manage leadership in a political party in the same manner you manage it in a corporate environment. That leadership is subject to the whims of internal party politicking. Why can’t you manage the political party leadership corps? It is unlikely that the next leadership corps is going to be comprised of some relative unknowns. In other words, the leadership contest is a managed process, albeit auto-pilot management. If it were not managed then from one election cycle to the next there would be huge swings in leadership and massive losses in institutional memory.
Organisations such as General Electric span vast geographies and have revenues that rival the GDPs of many countries, and yet they seem to develop a succession corps of leaders. The irony is that having a predictable system of leadership transition would make the issue of leadership within the ANC a non-issue. Unlike now where they pretend it is not an issue when experience would suggest otherwise.
Running a country requires a range of skills that one accumulates while progressing up the ranks. Thus unlike some technology company where you may be a programming wizard and on that basis lead a legion of staff. Being president of a country is about governance, dealing with people, maintaining relationships and politicking. One may acquire these skills faster than others but ultimately you need to acquire them progressively.
During the period April 25 to May 1 1969 the ANC held its history-making conference in Morogoro, Tanzania. The questions that faced the ANC ranged from allowing non-black cadres into its leadership, how to balance the tension between military vs non-military revolution, and how to co-ordinate and structure its leadership corps. These questions were by no means trivial. However the ANC of Oliver Tambo managed to hold together all the factions: Africanists vs liberals, militants vs diplomats, veterans vs young blood.
The Concourt has ushered in the dusk of Zuma. The sunset of the tumultuous Zuma presidency should give the ANC pause for thought about where it should be heading. The ANC needs to ask what question should its next leadership corps address and which individuals best speak to that. Morogoro speaks to the ANC’s historical ability to rise to the occasion.
So in closing I ask: Have you managed to figure out to which question Zuma was the answer?