Leaders need a clean start

2018-04-08 06:01
Former KwaZulu-Natal premier and ANC chairperson Senzo Mchunu and then party secretary Sihle Zikalala, who won the 2015 ANC elections to replace Mchunu. The elections were declared unlawful, which caused division in the party PHOTO: Gallo Images

Former KwaZulu-Natal premier and ANC chairperson Senzo Mchunu and then party secretary Sihle Zikalala, who won the 2015 ANC elections to replace Mchunu. The elections were declared unlawful, which caused division in the party PHOTO: Gallo Images

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In The Prince, Machiavelli observes that, in politics, as in physical health, illness is easy to cure but hard to recognise in the beginning; if untreated, it becomes, in the fullness of time, easy to recognise, but hard to cure. Equally true, Vladimir Lenin once observed that, “in politics, there are decades in which nothing happens and then there are weeks in which something happens”.

Nothing better captures Machiavelli and Lenin’s observations more forcefully than the factions that have polarised the once mighty ANC. At the core of these factions is the contest for power and resources. In his celebrated book On War, Carl von Clausewitz posits that “politics” is a contest of power over control of governance and resources, and not necessarily “governance” itself. Politics tends to be about who controls power and not about how the political system operates successfully.

The consciences of some of our leaders have been found wanting when it comes to money, which is one of the causes of the factions that have nearly destroyed the oldest liberation movement in Africa.

If there is one thing that has nearly brought the ANC to its knees with the resultant precipitous decline in public support, it is the conspicuous immersion of its members in crass materialism.

The fragmentation that was occasioned by the disputed provincial elective conference in KwaZulu-Natal calls for renewal that will jettison old systems of thought and begin, with renewed vigour, to adjust to new realities and systems of thinking.

Ironically, though the current political impasse in KwaZulu-Natal has not been caused by a sustained period of electoral failure, it has its origin in the outcomes of elections for new leadership. The renewal of the ANC is, therefore, occasioned by the lessons drawn from the disputed electoral results.

Renewal means the reconstruction of the ANC as a political institution. Renewal means the revival of political classes (umhabulo) and the reinvigoration of all that made the ANC stand out. Renewal means making the ANC a trustworthy, dependable and viable party. Renewal means that there is an urgent need to clearly articulate the ANC’s policies, which will help promote party cohesion and continuity.

As of now, there appears to be a lack of a clear profile of the ANC. This sometimes results in the ANC having to resort to vague wording in its official statements. The ANC’s leaders have consistently tried to gloss over substantially divergent standpoints in many areas. It is against this backdrop, therefore, that I strongly feel that the organisational success of the ANC will be directly dependent on specific internal articulation. In this regard, most of the ANC’s internal problems would be reduced quite substantially. Clearly defined policies will always place responsibility at the forefront of political discourse, and this might largely work to constrain the divisions engulfing the mighty ANC. Renewal means the calibre of the cadre the ANC’s recruits needs to be revisited. It must be investigated whether the recruitment of a multitude will add value or just numbers to the ANC.

We need unity in action

My take is that, in some respects, the present membership of the ANC leaves a lot to be desired. Some of the members hardly know the constitution of the ANC, let alone the culture and the dynamics of the party. Not until recently have people in the party used guns and knives against other members to drive their points home. Perhaps in the process of recruiting membership, the ANC opened its doors to hardened criminals and fraudsters.

This calls for the ANC’s selection and recruitment policy to explore the possibility of having an induction programme that will focus on, among other things, political education, mentoring and training for all new members of the ANC.

However, let me hasten to say that there is no way this can be achieved without genuine unity, which appears to be missing. Currently, the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal is more polarised than before. The once vibrant ANC has been replaced by political gridlock, apathy, fickleness and ignorance. Polarisation points to a lack of leadership, and a lack of leadership is the result of a lack of political unity. Indeed, the decline of ideological politics and the legalisation of political life have placed a premium on character, integrity and judgement as arbiters of political leadership.

We need unity in action and not in rhetoric. We need leaders who will not allow their egos and power struggles to impede our sense of belonging and commitment to our collective good; leaders who are driven by a mission and a shared vision to serve the aspirations of the people of KwaZulu-Natal, whose acts of courage, devotion and defiance have kept the ANC alive under harsh conditions. We need our leaders to stand together in joy and sorrow. This is the time to seize the moment and look to the future with a renewed sense of unity. This is the time for our leaders to reflect and learn from their mistakes.

Indeed, the ANC leadership is saddled with the responsibility of bringing order back to the province that birthed the founding fathers of this glorious movement. As the adage goes, there is always a silver lining behind every dark cloud. The ANC’s many political vicissitudes stand as a testament to the fact that it is often the internal implosions that have presented opportunities to rectify its past and resuscitate its future.

Who would have thought that the once toxic and bitter rivalry between Sbu Ndebele and Zweli Mkhize could be amicably resolved. At first, the process of promoting peace between the two appeared impossible. The peace that finally prevailed between Ndebele and Mkhize was not a miracle – it required the two leaders to transcend their personal political differences and put the interests of the people first. The current KwaZulu-Natal ANC leaders should draw from the wells of wisdom of these leaders.

Even the ANC’s opponents want to see it thrive. Mangosuthu Buthelezi is on record expressing his displeasure over the problems plaguing the ANC. Where else have you heard of a powerful and seasoned politician wishing stability in his opponent? Buthelezi’s concern is neither politicking nor grandstanding, but genuine expression that points to the prestige of the ANC.

I believe that the gulfs that have been engendered by factionalism within the ANC are not unbridgeable. All they require is an honest leadership that will promote reconciliation. There is an urgent need for a retreat session for the leaders of the two camps in KwaZulu-Natal. The ANC needs to initiate a process to broker peace among its members, especially among the leaders who do not see eye to eye, to provide a platform for comrades to apologise and forgive one another for the deep hurt they have inflicted upon themselves. Nowhere is the reconciliation process within the ANC more urgent than it is in KwaZulu-Natal. The continuing political divisiveness in the ANC in the province may lead to a full-scale civil war if not nipped in the bud.

There was a time when the political discourse among KwaZulu-Natal’s leaders degenerated into mudslinging and personal attacks. It is my take that there is no other way the rifts in the ANC – nationally and provincially – can be mended if comrades do not sit around a table and forgive one another for the damage and pain they caused to the ANC and themselves by expressing unsavoury and disparaging remarks about each other in public.

I am sure I speak on behalf of millions of citizens in KwaZulu-Natal when I say that it would be nice if the leaders of the two factions organised a peace summit to literally exorcise themselves of the demons that saw them drifting apart, and crown this summit with a public declaration that they have found one another. The current political uncertainty and unfriendly political climate in the province rubbishes all the milestones the province has achieved since democracy. This province served as a beacon of hope.

To paraphrase Martin Luther King, let ANC leaders stop drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. As the ANC tackles the issue of division, may it be reminded that the struggle to deliver the people from the scourge of poverty is far from over.

- Shongwe works in the office of the premier of KwaZulu-Natal

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