Khaya Dlanga

Will a white person ever lead the ANC?

2010-10-12 13:05

I wrote a column in The Cape Times on Monday that inspired me to write this one.

The natural and instinctive response from a politically correct ANC leader would be of course, a white person will become president of the ANC. Maybe this is true. I wonder if it would happen in my lifetime though. If it happens in my lifetime I say 30 years.

Before I delve any deeper into this column I should make some very obvious statements, which I’m sure some people will find reason to dispute.

1. It is commonly and generally accepted that the ANC is not racist. The ANC accepts white people into the fold and is not averse to giving them positions within the movement. There are many such stalwarts such as Joe Slovo.

2 .The ANC has always fought against all forms of discrimination. I am not unmindful of the comments that will follow this column that will say the ANC is racist because of Affirmative Action. Affirmative Action is not about racism and this column is not about that, so let us refrain from making any such references.

Having said that, can we honestly say amongst ourselves that the ANC could elect a white president in the next three elections? Truth be told, there are a lot of very talented white leaders in the organisation and they hold some very key positions within the party. One such person is the current Governor of the Reserve Bank, Gill Marcus. And there are many more where she came from.

As a white leader in the ANC, does one have to constantly worry about being told to leave their white tendencies behind? I wonder if there is a bit of eggshell-walking involved when one is a white ANC leader, because, let’s face it, a lot of people like to use the played out race card when they don’t have an argument. I personally respect a person more if they can win an argument without saying, “Is it because I’m black?”

For a very long time, many people knew that Trevor Manuel was probably one of the top five best candidates to lead the ANC, in terms of pure talent and competence. As much as some may accuse me of coconut tendencies, or a supporter of coconut policies, I still believe that Trevor Manuel was a better candidate for president than Jacob Zuma, purely on managerial and financial abilities. As finance minister, he had a more powerful portfolio than Zuma when he was deputy president. This means that he was more familiar with the nuances of the levers of government.

John Nance Garner, the thirty-second vice-president of the United States once said the vice-presidency is “not worth a bucket of warm piss”. He also said: “A great man may be vice-president but he can't be a great vice-president, because the office in itself is unimportant.” Manuel may have been more powerful in government, but Zuma was more powerful when it came to party machinery, and that’s what counts in the ANC. Many within the party said that the only reason Manuel could never ascend to the presidency, despite all his talents because he is a man of mixed race. If Manuel, a man with impeccable struggle credentials can be denied the presidency simply because of the colour of his skin (OK, that may be simplistic but it has been whispered that it played a role), why would a white person be elected to lead the party?

Some could argue that Manuel received the most votes in 2002 to the ANC’s National Executive Committee, if there was a problem with the colour of his skin he wouldn’t have received the most votes. The fact remains he never stood a chance with the presidency.

This is not to say that a white person would never be elected as president of the ANC, it just means that it will take an extraordinary white man to get there. That person will have to have the skills of Kennedy, Obama and Mandela in one for him to get there. It’s not impossible. It’s just going to be bloody difficult. Who then shall break the glass ceiling? When will it be broken? I hope it will be broken sooner than we think.

I do believe we will have a woman president of the ANC before we have a white man leading it. What could surprise us though, is that that woman president could in fact be a white woman. One thing that we all know about South Africa is that it is full of surprises.  Let’s wait and see when the surprise will happen.

- Follow Khaya on Twitter.

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