Many people complain about the state of our leadership and in particular the leadership of the ANC. They ask how the party of Mandela, Tambo and Luthuli could now be led by scandal hit Zuma. They ask where all the great leaders have gone. Has there been a generational change? Are people now more selfish? I argue that people have not changed, but that the contact has. In the past the best would rise to the top, now the best are often pushed aside. It is not that the country, or the ANC, does not still have potentially great leaders, it is that they are silenced. We must find a way to give them voice.
Imagine the ANC of 1950’s. Who would want to lead? Your work in service of the struggle would put you in line for harassment, arrest and possibly imprisonment – if not worse. Such an environment led to the bravest and most committed rising through the ranks of the party. They were difficult times, but these difficult times produced some of the greatest leaders the party, and indeed the country, has ever had. This is the period in which the likes of Mandela came up. Who would have competed with him for position? Only others who were prepared to face the consequences he endured, and people brave enough to face those were few. So he, and other great people, found themselves in leadership positions.
Think of the ANC of today. What are today’s leaders in line for? Good jobs, high salaries, opportunities to influence state resources for private benefit and a range of other comforts. Do such incentives lead to the bravest and most committed rising to the top? Not a chance. I am sure that the ANC still has many brave and committed members who wish only to serve the country. But for them to gain power they must contend with those motivated by greed, and the latter are hardly likely to play fair.
So how can things change? We certainly do not want to return to a time when we imprison our leaders, only to ensure that we get the best. We can, however, take away the worst and most damaging trappings of leadership – the ability to control state resources for private benefit. How do we do this? We ensure that there are consequences for such actions and the only way to do that is for the ANC to be made to fear electoral defeat. If we want the best out of the ANC, we must make the party sweat.