Look, The ANC Must Change Its Attitude

2014-08-13 22:58

The recent hullabaloo about Pallo Jordan's fake qualifications may be history now, but it points to deep realities within the ANC that need working on. There seems to be a systematic exodus from the ranks of the ANC of intellectual, if not popular, leaders with immense potential or quality or skills or all of the above and more. Sadly, the ANC seems not to care and is willing to continue with business as usual. This does not just affect the members of the ANC and its voters; the quality of ANC leadership also affects you directly. Perhaps it's time for the ANC to change its attitude and defend and protect their most valuable assets.

The ANC we have grown to know is one that protects its own, no matter what everyone else thinks or says. Remember Tony Yengeni? Convicted fraudster? Remember prominent leaders of the ANC actively cheering him on outside Pollsmoor Prison? We are used to an ANC (and broader Tripartite alliance) having a “Hands off Comrade XYZ” attitude for its leaders. But the silence in Jordan's case was deafening. The stance of the ANC in the Jordan issue shows the disregard it has for those who have served it faithfully for years and also cements a growing sense of worry about how poorly the ANC treats its intellectuals.

(Now, I am fully aware that the term “intellectual” is very subjective and I will not even attempt to define it, but there is general consensus that Pallo Jordan, despite his deception, represents the cream of the ANC's and South Africa's intelligentsia.)

By all means, Jordan is not the first and only case study of the ANC's poor treatment of its best cadres and I want to spend a bit of time discussing a few examples. The very first one that comes to mind is President Thabo Mbeki. After chucking him out like used beetroot peels, the ANC leadership made absolutely no attempts of reining him in and including him in their post-Polokwane unification project. By doing that they willingly and arrogantly let go of their best and most educated minds; a true African intellectual (that word again).

After you consider Mbeki, you can't help but think of Trevor Manuel. Manuel refused to stand for re-election to the party's NEC outfit (election to which was all but guaranteed). The same applies to Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe who refused to avail himself for the NEC. Both these leaders also refused to be part of the 5th Parliament of the Republic. The ANC made no tangible efforts (certainly not publicly) to secure this talent and instead willingly let them go. In the same breath, we can also consider Speaker Max Sisulu, a quality individual of a sober, independent mind, who was also let go without a fight.

Perhaps one is being too harsh on the ANC leadership: it could very well be that they tried to retain the services of their cadres. However, be that as it may be, one can argue that it was not enough. Otherwise why is it that we remember Sisulu's summons to Luthuli House after he established the Nkandla Ad-Hoc committee, but we don't hear anything about Luthuli House summoning him to convince him to stay and serve in Parliament?

Of course, this is all about perceptions. The ANC is not seen to protect its best assets. It is important for the ANC leadership to be seen, at the very least, to encourage a culture of keeping their best assets. Instead, what we see is a culture of rewarding and retaining mediocrity. It seems the ANC leadership would rather keep a Siyabonga Cwele (and even resurrect a new Apartheid-era post for him) than keep a seasoned, experienced minister like Ma Thoko Didiza in Cabinet.

As if it is not enough to push away the intellectuals, the ANC is lagging behind when it comes to educating its own. It seems that gone are the days where they would send the Mbekis to study in foreign universities. While organisations such as the DA and EFF are sending their top leaders to study (and prepare for national governance) abroad, the ANC is quiet. The sad part is that there is no shortage of young, emerging cadres of the ANC eager to study who otherwise lack financial means to do so. Attempts to initiate a national political school (as per Stellenbosch Conference resolutions made more than a decade ago) in order to train and prepare members of the ANC have fallen flat. So where will future intellectuals stem from?

The ANC needs to take criticism like this seriously. It is important that they fix how they are perceived by the electorate as the 2016 Local Government Elections edge closer. They need to do all they can do to keep their upright, intellectual leaders and passionately refuse to let them go. Added to that, they must invest funds and time in developing current and future quality leaders.

Otherwise, for now, the ANC has no business accepting resignations from, and pushing away, its quality leaders as if there's a limitless sea of quality leaders of high stature hidden somewhere in the back rooms of Luthuli House.

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