ANC should consider a third way

2017-01-15 06:03
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (File, Simon Maina, AFP)

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (File, Simon Maina, AFP)

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The pronouncement by the ANC Women’s League last week that Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is its preferred candidate in the ANC leadership race, even though made prematurely, has reopened the leadership debate and is likely to exacerbate tensions within the organisation.

Unfortunately, up to now, the debate is not informed by widely known party guidelines or principles on leadership, leadership selection and leadership ethical principles. For now, the debate occurs against the backdrop of politics of fracture in the organisation.

The context of the debate is obviously unhealthy.

There are already rumours of clandestine manoeuvrings by the current president and his allies, and if these have any grain of truth, there is every likelihood that it would muddy the preparations for the race and the race itself.

This will create divisions that could lead to a more serious but slow implosion of the ANC.

This point may seem dramatic and overly pessimistic, but is a reality that has happened to many political parties on the continent.

The serious threat to the ANC, even if many may disagree, is the leadership of President Jacob Zuma.

ANC guidelines for this particular contest may need to frame the role of the incumbent president in the choice of a new leader.

A balance between his rights and role as the current president and transparency and fairness are needed to avoid him throwing his weight behind a person who will allow him to govern from the grave.

One also hopes the ANC and other political parties on the continent could learn one or two things from the ANC crisis.

Part of the lesson could be that, if a political organisation is serious and committed to lead the experiment of building a liberal democracy, that organisation should be careful to deploy as its leader a former intelligence operative of exile years.

Exile was never a school on democracy and civility. The role of intelligence itself in building a young democracy is controversial.

In my view, intelligence by its very nature is the dubious underworld of power.

A sense of morals or even ethical commitment is hardly a part of the vocabulary of this underworld. The danger to the ANC leadership contest is the possible influence and role of this “underworld”.

One is even tempted to link some of these underground forces, first to the incumbent and, second, to external powers and interest groups that possibly involve Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

The process of the leadership contest is likely to be unfair, dirty and even manipulated at branch level.

The anchors of internal democracy in the ANC are also likely to be seriously tested, not only by old traditions from liberation struggle days, but also by the new influence of money and search for business opportunities.

So far it appears that the contest will be a two-horse race between Dlamini-Zuma and deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa – both of whom have huge credentials as well as controversies to clear, if at all their leadership will save the ANC from disgrace.

Ramaphosa is one of the brains behind our Constitution and the National Development Plan, and already has the aura of party president and head of state.

What is regarded as ANC tradition is that the deputy president ascends into presidency when the time comes.

But the way things look at this juncture is that we could be in for a surprise as it appears that there are numerous voices supporting Dlamini-Zuma.

Should Dlamini-Zuma’s name be formally pronounced and gain more support, will Ramaphosa, on his own, decide to withdraw from the race based on a careful reading of the balance of forces?

If this doesn’t happen and the two-horse race continues, the ANC will have a lot to lose – it doesn’t matter who of the two wins. The party could be seriously weakened at the polls in 2019.

My advice to the ANC would be that the party cast the net wider beyond the two contenders already bandied about in public debates.

If the issue is about finding the first ANC woman president, then be flexible and open the space for other women of great leadership calibre to contest.

For the coming leadership competition, it is advisable to invoke a conciliatory path and a transitional type of leadership to stabilise the ANC and give more space to younger leaders.

A conciliatory path would prioritise uniting the ANC by underlining the importance of ethical values of respect, commitment and humility.

The search should focus on a leader who is historically a part of the ANC and has an unbroken track record of loyalty and commitment – if the focus is on finding a woman leader of impeccable credentials, then the generation younger than Dlamini-Zuma – not tied to either the Zuma dynasty or mineral-energy complex of mining magnates – should also be seriously considered.

It should be a person of recognised capability who would seek to reconcile and unite the ANC and provide leadership towards the implementation of developmental commitments at the level of government.

I can’t resist the inclination to drop the names of such women like Lindiwe Sisulu and Naledi Pandor. Whatever could be regarded as their faults, they have track records of leadership that are known to many South Africans and they are longstanding members of the ANC.

Of course the suspicion is that the deal has already been struck.

Even if that is the case, one can only hope that ANC members can still use the time before the elective conference to think through the issue of leadership more objectively and carefully.

The party branches still have time to overcome the subjugation of “reason” by “unreason” in the organisation’s politics.

ANC structures should be advised to take the issue about choice of leadership seriously, as it has implications for the country as a whole.

Another more serious threat to the ANC leadership contest is its own inchoate ideological position that straddles every possible ground.

In this context, the question is what kind of leader can really suit a party that, on the surface, appears to be singing the same song, but deep down, the rhythms and dances to the song are different.

The choice of a leader may need to consider this important point. The party will need to find an educated leader with serious ideological grounding, as well as a vision that shows intellectual foresight.

This is clear and I think Zuma’s influence of the debate and choice of next leader will try to satisfy these expectations.

If at all he is behind the lobby for Dlamini-Zuma, then he is on the correct path, but not entirely spot-on.

Dlamini-Zuma is being pushed at the wrong time.

Her connections to the Zuma dynasty are too fresh and the perceptions that she will be elected mainly to extend the lease of life of Zuma’s patronage networks are going to be difficult to dismiss.

She will be president of the ANC at a time when there is a perception that ethnonationalism is at the heart of Zuma’s strategy, with the undeclared intention to make KwaZulu-Natal the decisive centre of South African politics.

This is hardly ever debated intensively as a challenge in ANC politics, but is of course mentioned in informal comments.

If Ramaphosa loses the race for one reason or the other, the perception about the influence of ethnonationalist factors will be difficult to dismiss. Is ethnicity coming into the ANC through the back door under Zuma’s leadership?

Is he actively seeking to extend this by influencing the choice of the next leader?These are some of the questions one is beginning to find floating around.

Should ethnicity be allowed to rear its head in ANC politics, then the sustainability of democratic peace in this country cannot be guaranteed.

The support for Dlamini-Zuma for the ANC presidency may fuel some of these perceptions, but it will also depend on how she responds to them.

Ramaphosa is a great candidate, but the Marikana incident continues to dent perceptions of him. My view is that, rather than have Zuma-Dlamini win an imploding ANC, bring a candidate who will lead reconciliation and unity within the ruling ANC.

If I were an ANC member, I would ask comrades in branches to carefully examine and debate the name of Sisulu. Her name was mentioned only once in papers last year.

She is younger than Dlamini-Zuma, but is probably politically senior to both Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma if one examines her track record during the exile period and the liberation struggle as a whole.

Not that one seeks to portray her as blameless, but she suits the role of a conciliatory option in this time of crisis in the ANC.

Of course, I know that one can’t tell the ANC what to do or not to do, but I can only hope that when that day comes, “laughter will be on my side”.

Kondlo is professor of political economy at the University of Johannesburg

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Read more on:    anc  |  ancwl  |  jacob zuma  |  nkosazana dlamini-zuma  |  presidency

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