Electing leaders

2012-01-13 00:00

RECENT events have certainly brought to the fore the enigmatic nature of political parties in this country.

They represent the basic working unit of democracy in action and yet some of them display barely functioning internal levels of democracy within their own structures. An obvious point you may say, but given the fact that three of our political parties — the ANC, the IFP and the DA — are set to hold national leadership elections this year, internal party democracy and how leaders are chosen is worth considering.

By now we are all too familiar with the ongoing saga of the long-delayed IFP elective conference. The leading question is whether it will indeed take place and whether party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi will eventually step down to make way for new blood.

The ANC's succession battle simmers on and the cauldron has not yet started bubbling over. No doubt the tempo will hot up during the course of the year as the party's elective conference is only due to take place in December. However, the ANC leadership battle could well turn into a damp squib and we could be deprived of our entertainment. The party now has a million members, the majority of whom are from KwaZulu-Natal, President Jacob Zuma's home province. According to an article on Politicsweb, the arithmetic shows that if the entire KZN delegation supports Zuma's re-election, as is expected. If it sends a quarter of delegates to Mangaung, then any challenger would need to be supported by over two-thirds of the delegates from all the other provinces (combined) to secure an overall majority. This will be difficult because Zuma also has support in other provinces, including parts of the Eastern Cape, which has the second highest number of members, as well as in the Free State and Mpumalanga.

Here's what's really irritating about the ANC — its coyness over not wanting to discuss succession within the party and the kind of leader it is looking at. This is a shortcoming in its internal democracy. Party members need to debate vigorously the type of leaders they want. Perhaps a possible reason for not wanting to open this door too early is the factionalism within the party which could well see the ANC tearing itself apart.

Zuma has acknowledged the need to modernise the party and end vote-buying and the divisive leadership power struggles within the party. He said this at the end of his lengthy ANC centenary celebration address on Sunday. The bulk of the address was a bad history lesson. A glaring gaffe was his saying that John Dube was at the historic January 8, 1912, meeting in Bloemfontein. According to the history books, Dube was not there and was elected president of the South African Native National Congress, the precursor to the ANC, in abstentia. I digress, but who wants a leader who is so slack about his own party's history?

Towards the end of his speech, he said: "Leadership development shall be accompanied by a review of the leadership election system of the ANC in order to enhance internal democracy, credibility of the process as well as the integrity and suitability of the candidates."

He added that this will protect the ANC from the tyranny of factions and money, and ensure that the organisation is led by experienced, committed and talented cadres.

Whether this will happen is yet to be seen. The party's former president, Thabo Mbeki, tried to initiate a similar change in 2005 which was rejected by the then National General Council. He proposed that branches continue to provide nomination lists but that a permanent structure be created, such as an election committee which would have the right to "correct deviations in terms of nominations in the leadership". Perhaps it was defeated because it was hardly a democratic step forward and would have introduced an element of control in choosing a leader. If Zuma is talking about broadening internal democracy within the party, he certainly needs to be encouraged and wished the best of luck.

The DA is to hold its national leadership elections in November. So far party leader Helen Zille has not indicated whether she will step down or stand for re-election. The party is unlikely to have a succession battle because it has an open system where candidates can put their names forward and openly canvass for support. However, as was seen in the election for the party's parliamentary leader and the contest between Lindiwe Mazibuko and Athol Trollip, the contest can get dirty.

Whatever happens, ordinary citizens are assured of an entertaining year.

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