Mandela vs Zuma

2013-05-03 08:45

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No Easy Walk to Freedom a collection of Nelson Mandela's writings and speeches was first published in 1965. This reissue comes with a new introduction from William Gumede and the original foreward by Oliver Tambo.

Below is an excerpt from Gumede's introduction where he compares Mandela and his generation to Jacob Zuma and today's ANC leadership.

Mandela moral leadership

The ANC’s success was to turn the struggle against apartheid into a moral struggle: in fact, to turn it into a global moral struggle. This strategy could not have succeeded without leaders with huge moral authority who, by their individual ethical and moral conduct, reinforced the moral dimensions of the struggle.

The current reality is, embarrassingly, quite the opposite. This is illustrated in the wide difference between the moral authority of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo or Walter Sisulu – all members of the Mandela generation – and the murkiness of Jacob Zuma, the ANC president, and the populism of Julius Malema, the expelled ANC Youth League president. The fact that the morally flawed Zuma could be elected to the presidency by the ANC is in itself testimony to the moral regression of the party.

The hardships suffered by victims of colonialism, apartheid and other terror regimes meant that being moral was almost a luxury. Under apartheid and colonialism "human actions [were] dictated by social conditions and racial heritage, not by the will of the individual". These regimes refused to acknowledge the individual worth of those they oppressed. For the victims of colonialism and apartheid, these regimes were a "great test of moral strength" and "everyday morality". In fact, "these extreme conditions [made] it possible to destroy the social contract at its very foundations and to obtain from human beings purely animal reactions".

Apartheid, slavery and colonialism aimed to break black people as individuals. In another context, which is applicable to the South African case, Bruno Bettelheim described how terror regimes break the individual’s ability "to regulate his (or her) own life." To prevent such regimes from succeeding in breaking the inner spirit of the individual, the answer is "to maintain one's dignity". One of the ways to do this is to choose one's "own attitude" in "any given circumstance", even in "extreme conditions" which seem "totally beyond one's ability to influence them".

Dignity in this context is the "capacity to satisfy, through one's actions, criteria that one has internalised". Mandela, as evidenced by the letters and speeches in No Easy Walk to Freedom, undoubtedly retained his dignity during the "dark times". Colonialism and apartheid left behind broken individuals with a damaged sense of self, leading to fractures in the fabric of society which continue to influence South Africa to this day.

In fact, apartheid and colonialism left black South Africans with massive "existential insecurity", meaning, in the words of Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart, "a persistent, generalised sense of threat and unease" because their survival was systematically threatened on every level – personal, familial, communal, cultural and national.

This sense of "existential insecurity" leaves a deep void. Genuine democrats would want the void to be filled by new democratic values, mores and cultures – and by the best (most democratic) elements of existing cultural, religious and spiritual values. However, in the South African situation this "existential insecurity" has generated "illiberal attitudes" in the wider citizenry: violent crime, a low level of tolerance for differences, xenophobia, social conservatism and so on.

In many African post-independence societies, the leaders of independence movements have spectacularly failed to provide leadership in the context of both broken societies and broken individuals, most of them lacking the imagination to do so. South African businessman Reuel Khoza rightly argues that before African leaders can offer such leadership, "they must have emotional intelligence, self-knowledge and the ability to self reflect.

They must like Nelson Mandela, the former South African President, be attuned to their own 'feelings of rage and impotence', and yet be able to overcome this”. Martha Cabrera, the Nicaraguan social psychologist of the revolution in her country, said: "What we need is leadership that starts with the personal, leaders who lead from their own values, their own life".

For Mandela, as No Easy Walk to Freedom shows, the moral integrity of a leader was crucial. President Jacob Zuma's appalling statement during his rape trial in 2006 that he could see by the way a woman dressed that she was looking for sex, is indicative of the decline in moral integrity of our leaders. Unable to secure respect by behaving with integrity, Zuma's supporters, specifically the SACP in KwaZulu-Natal, have called for a law to "protect the dignity" of the president.

In contrast, because of his moral integrity, personified by his exemplary personal behaviour as leader, Mandela was respected even by his opponents.

Mandela's democratic leadership

In the ANC of the 1940s, 50s and early 60s – in which Mandela cut his political teeth – the democratic spirit was premium. The ANC’s Youth League statement of policy which was developed in the mid-1940s called for "true democracy" in South Africa and Africa. Even as a young ANC Youth League leader, Mandela was more democratic in outlook than many of the current anc leaders, a number of whom seemingly appear to believe in a very narrow version of democracy.

Even during the 1960s, Mandela had strong views on the kind of democracy he envisaged for a free South Africa. He argued for a parliamentary system, a Bill of Rights, the doctrine of separation of powers, as well as the independence and impartiality of the judiciary which "never fails to arouse my admiration".

This is truly revolutionary as many African independence and liberation movements and their leaders have viewed democracy in its narrowest sense, sometimes wrongly insisting that democracy only meant holding elections. Others argued that democracy was not African; it was "foreign" and "Western".

Of course, scholars such as the celebrated Indian economist Amartya Sen have comprehensively rebutted such narrow-minded views, saying our "ideas of political and personal rights have taken their particular form relatively recently, and it is hard to see them as 'traditional' commitments of Western cultures".

Many elements of democracy are found in both traditional Asian and African cultures, as well as Western ones. Again, some African leaders argued that pursuing democracy was an expensive luxury, given the staggering development backlogs in their newly independent countries. They insisted that economic development must come before democracy. Damningly, the record speaks for itself: they have achieved neither development nor democracy. Both Amartya Sen and the Turkish political economist Dani Rodrik, in separate research across developing countries, show the contrary; democracy is not only compatible with growth and poverty reduction but may be crucial to both.

In Mandela's ANC decisions were made through consultation, negotiation and discussion and recognised the equity of all. As the ANC celebrated its one hundredth anniversary, antidemocratic leaders, groups and factions appeared to have a stranglehold on the party and democrats seemed to be in retreat.

Key ANC leaders participated in the writing of South Africa's constitution which set a clear democratic, rights and values framework for post-apartheid South Africa and was widely considered among the most progressive in the world. Incredibly, some leaders are now saying that the country's constitution, particularly its provision for freedom of expression, "undermines" development.

In 2007 Judge Chris Nicholson heavily criticised former President Thabo Mbeki for his government's apparent manipulation of democratic institutions for political ends. Zuma and his supporters, in their campaign to quash corruption charges against him (Zuma), attacked the judiciary, democratic institutions, the media and other critics. During his campaign to secure the presidency of the ANC at the party's 2007 Polokwane conference Zuma remained silent when his militant supporters, like former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema, said they would "kill" to ensure that the corruption charges against him were dropped and to make sure Zuma became the country's next president.

Under both the Mbeki and Zuma presidencies, watchdog institutions, such as the human rights commission (called "chapter 9" institutions in South Africa), have been cowed into submission by patronage appointments and threats by government leaders that their funding and resources would be withdrawn if they criticised the government or the ANC. The Zuma presidency is now pushing through a draft Protection of Information Bill that will give the government broad powers to classify almost any information involving an agency of the state as "top secret", not to be reported on or divulged in the interests of "national security".

The draft bill prescribes penalties of up to twenty-five years in prison for those trying to uncover such "protected" information, disclosing such information, found in possession of such information or refusing to reveal their sources. The public's right to access government documents would also be re- stricted. Clearly such a law will cover up official corruption and punish whistle-blowers and the media who expose wrongdoing.

It is poor governance, the inability by the government to redress poverty while leaders enjoy extravagant lifestyles funded by public money and corruption and dishonesty of leaders that are the biggest threats to the stability of South Africa – not exposing these despicable actions.

- William Gumede is the author of the bestselling Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC. He is associate professor of public development athe University of the Witwatersrand and a programme director at the University of London.

Buy No Easy Walk to Freedom here.
Read more on:    anc  |  thabo mbeki  |  jacob zuma  |  nelson mandela

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