I’m voting The General

2014-05-04 15:00

After watching Bantu Holomisa give the vote of thanks at Nelson Mandela’s funeral, I sent him a message asking him to step up to the plate of leadership in this country.

I harbour no illusions that he will dislodge the ANC from power in this election. But if we support him in large numbers he could well have enough of a bargaining voice to become the leader of the opposition and enough of a bargaining voice with the ANC and the DA.

He could be the kingmaker the ANC needs to rid itself of its corrupt leadership or the black leader who forces the DA to be clearer on racial transformation. I suspect Holomisa’s natural instincts will be with the ANC?–?he topped the ANC’s conference in 1994.

Now, why would a guy who ran the former Transkei homeland government be so popular in the ANC? This may have to do with the fact that he allowed people like Chris Hani to come in and out of Transkei as part of the ANC underground. He allowed the PAC to operate from inside Transkei.

I vaguely remember him telling me how he overthrew Stella Sigcau’s corrupt government and would tell police to remove roadblocks if there were ANC and PAC guerrillas in Transkei. But I also suspect something else behind his popularity?–?his charisma.

I felt a sense of charismatic authority about Holomisa at Madiba’s funeral. The sociologist Max Weber famously divided the concept of authority into three types. First, there was the charismatic authority that emerges during times of national stress?–?George Washington, Jawaharlal Nehru, Nelson Mandela.

However, this charismatic authority is successful only if it transforms itself into a second type?–?rational-legal authority. By that Weber means respect for what we now call the rule of law. The third type of authority is what Weber called traditional authority.

All these types of authority are susceptible to corruption. The charismatic leader often turns into a dictator, the rational-legal authority manipulates the state institutions because he knows them too well and the traditional leader makes no distinction between private and public property.

To watch against the corruption we must always keep our independence from these leaders, however much we love them. We must institutionalise that independence by building a vibrant civil society, a free press and an independent judiciary.

Democracy survives only when it has such institutions. But democracy also needs individual leaders to run it. They will disappoint us from time to time, as Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma have done over the past two decades. But democracy is a process of persistent experimentation.

We must use the disappointment as an opportunity to keep searching for those leaders who will represent the “better angels of our nature”. It is in the nature of the democratic process that the search never ends. I will go with Holomisa this time. If he disappoints, I will be the first to let him know.

Whatever happens, I hope the ANC loses a chunk, so that it can begin to respect us.

Mangcu is associate professor of sociology at the University of Cape Town and nonresident fellow at the Hutchins Center for African and African-American Research at Harvard University

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