Slim chance of 2017 consensus

2016-10-09 16:01
Rapule Tabane

Rapule Tabane

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‘To be governed by someone worse than themselves: that is what I believe frightens honest men into accepting power, and they approach it not as if it were something desirable out of which they were going to do well, but something unavoidable. For in a city of good men, there might well be as much competition to avoid power as there is now to get it,” wrote philosopher Plato back in 400BC.

He was making general observations about how those who consider themselves leaders are invariably attracted to power.

Is it prescience on Plato’s part, or a case of “the more things change, the more things stay the same”, given our dynamics in this country, miles and millennia away from Plato’s Greece?

Last week, ANC national chairperson Baleka Mbete said the party was pushing for the idea that the election of its top six senior officials should not be contested.

In other words, there should be consensus on those people who reach leadership level to obviate the process of voting.

This idea, first mooted by the ANC Youth League a few months ago, has since gained currency. Its purpose is to prevent paralysing the ANC at branch level and sowing divisions – a situation that has become endemic in the party over its past two conferences.

After the 2007 Polokwane conference – where former president Thabo Mbeki lost his leadership of the ANC to Jacob Zuma – disgruntled members as well as party leaders left and formed the Congress of the People.

Similarly, in the aftermath of the 2012 conference, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) was formed. That party has since played a crucial role as election kingmaker, denying the ANC control of three of the country’s big metros – Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay – which are now governed by the opposition.

The fear among ANC cadres is that another hotly contested conference might result in yet another breakaway formation. The belief, then, is that an uncontested conference would minimise this possibility.

Proponents of this say the ANC’s alliance partners, the SA Communist Party and trade federation Cosatu, have successfully held leadership elections free from contestation.

But it could be argued that both organisations succeeded in getting their members to rally around a common agenda, however dubious. This smoothed the path for a discussion on leadership and agreement on proposed names.

But I have to wonder if this proposal would work for such a fractured party as the ANC, which has always battled with unity. However, the situation worsened after the recent municipal polls, which saw a significant drop in electoral support.

A blame game ensued, and no one accepted responsibility for the ANC’s poor performance. Instead, the national executive committee accepted collective responsibility.

Many members have highlighted the various scandals associated with Zuma, particularly the Nkandla debacle, as having cost the party public confidence. However, a formidable group within the ANC says he is being unfairly singled out for blame.

This bodes ill for the possibility of any agreement on who will lead the party in the future. And what really works against the idea of consensus leadership is the fact that many party candidates do not possess the qualities spelt out by Plato.

The ANC has far too many people who believe they have what it takes to be the country’s Number One citizen. Some are merely ambitious, others greedy, while still others are being pushed to jostle for power by self-interested lobbies.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza long for the power, but are not prepared to fight for it. Mabuza recently told his supporters in Mpumalanga, who were planning to nominate him for the ANC deputy presidency, that he was not prepared to jostle for it. He wants it given to him without the pain of having to deal with a competitor.

Ramaphosa has not quite put it that way, but he behaves just like Mabuza – he’s waiting to be crowned. It is possible that each of these candidates wants uncontested leadership, but I cannot see how such party stalwarts as Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Jeff Radebe, Lindiwe Sisulu, Mbete and Ramaphosa would willingly step aside to allow a rival to become president with their popularity untested.

I also doubt that the ANC’s top brass – notably, Gwede Mantashe, Zweli Mkhize, Paul Mashatile, Ace Magashule and Mabuza – would give a position in the top six a miss purely in consideration for a rival.

Compounding the power play is a push by younger members for the more youthful party faithful – namely Fikile Mbalula, Malusi Gigaba, Panyaza Lesufi, David Makhura and Nathi Mthethwa – to take up leadership posts, considering that opposition parties such as the DA and EFF are led by young men in their 30s.

With no clear vision for the future and a deep mistrust of each other’s motives, consensus leadership within the ANC will be tough. The lure of power is irresistible for many cadres, and the ANC will battle to suppress those ambitions.

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