No need to worry?

2007-12-14 00:00

In the After Eight Debate earlier this week, Professor Ben Turok made the very pertinent point that there is no single set of qualities that apply to a leader.

Leadership has to be considered within the context of what constitutes the leadership role. The qualities required by a military leader, for example, are not necessarily those that are apposite for a civilian leader.

Too often, however, these distinctions are not recognised, either by those who are destined to follow or those who occupy the positions of leadership.

To some extent, I suppose, this is the dilemma of Pakistan. President Perevez Musharraf, having led the army and staged the coup, has presided over the country ever since. He has done so, apparently, with the mind-set of a military leader and, now that he has stood down as the head of the army, there is no guarantee that he will show a sufficient, and appropriate, range of leadership qualities to be a successful civilian leader.

Both he and his supporters, it seems, believe he will. If it proves so, he will defy the evidence of history, for few military leaders, no matter how successful on the battlefield, have enhanced their reputations as civilian leaders.

This is also the dilemma that faces the African National Congress insofar as the person chosen in Polokwane will lead both the party and, in the course of time, the government.

In view of Turok’s observation, which is objective common sense, it does not follow that one candidate will have the best credentials for both positions. Since President Thabo Mbeki has denied, on his part, any objective to extend by constitutional change his term of office as president of the country, his candidature is for party presidency alone. He and his supporters, it seems, believe that he is the best person to lead the ANC.

Constitutionally, someone else would have to be the party’s nominee for president of the country in 2009. This is assuming, of course, that there is not some secret plot among the Mbeki supporters to use the ANC majority to bring about the constitutional amendment that would allow an extension of the current presidency beyond the 10-year term.

I have the sense that the campaign on behalf of Zuma is geared towards his being the next head of state. It is difficult to imagine that his financial backers, whoever they are, are spending quite so much to place him at the head of the party alone. But the popular, somewhat myopic view, is that he cannot succeed to the former without first occupying the latter position. This is rooted in the objection to what has been called “two centres of power”.

Well, one wonders whether the leadership of either the party or the country should be about power.

We are told, justifiably, that the ANC is a collective and in the order of things the party will determine the direction of government. To a great extent, therefore, the president and the cabinet are bound by a mandate and if they are people of integrity and loyalty, they will not defy it.

The development of this mandate, the administration of the party, the organisation of branches and the raising of funds may be better led by a person other than the one who is the presidential nominee.

In the times before 1994 when the ANC traditions were not subject to the influence of government and power, the leader was the leader of the movement, after all, and chosen for his qualities to do just this.

I am inclined to believe those who promise far less upheaval than is predicted by the rampant interest of the media. The ship of state is slow to turn and, in any event, there is only so much turning that can be done.

Every activist who has ever got into a position of responsibility has had to temper idealism in the face of reality. The leadership battle is of less real interest to both ordinary people and investors abroad than we might think. The markets may reflect a reaction one way or another, but this will be temporary, in the same way that the world tolerates all sorts of other countries’ leaders, good or bad.

Just as the election of the leader of the Democratic Alliance was a party matter, of passing interest to the country at large, so too, is this an internal matter for the ANC.

Those who are not members may hold their opinions and even voice them, but have no right to contribute to the decision. Our judgment should be based, not on the choice itself, but on the extent to which it affects the country in time to come in one direction or another.

• Andrew Layman is a former headmaster and now the CEO of the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business.

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