ANC needs new blood

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - DOU­GLAS GIB­SON

SPEAKER in the Na­tional As­sem­bly Baleka Mbete an­nounced re­cently she was ready to be the pres­i­dent of the ANC. She joined the aspi­rants who all coyly say they are hum­bled and honoured to be con­sid­ered be­fore scram­bling back­ward and say­ing it is not ap­pro­pri­ate to dis­cuss the lead­er­ship of their party just yet. Or­ders from on high.

And then “on high” breaches the same dik­tat and goes on to en­dorse, or vir­tu­ally en­dorse, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the mother of around twenty per­cent of his chil­dren.

He also be­rates the aspi­rants for an­nounc­ing their readi­ness to serve. He then adds that it is time for a woman pres­i­dent, and praises Dlamini-Zuma.

This painful process seems set to go on for the rest of this year un­til the ANC elec­tive con­fer­ence last month.

My two grand­chil­dren aged two love to hide be­hind the cur­tain or the door, be the sub­ject of a search with the searcher ask­ing: “Where’s Keira? Where’s Thomas?” Be­fore they squeal with de­light at be­ing found.

The go­ings-on of the geri­atric aspi­rants in the ANC re­mind me of the grand­chil­dren play­ing games.

Ev­ery one of the de­clared (or if you pre­fer it, un­de­clared) can­di­dates for ANC lead­er­ship qual­i­fies for an old age pen­sion.

In a coun­try with the vast ma­jor­ity of the vot­ers be­ing young, the cred­i­ble aspi­rants all seem too old.

Why don’t some of them go ahead and re­tire? The Amer­i­cans have just in­ducted their old­est pres­i­dent in his­tory, prob­a­bly en­cour­ag­ing our aged to stay in the race.

The lure of high of­fice in the ANC is so at­trac­tive be­cause the can­di­dates and the com­men­tariat all seem to be­lieve that the next stop is the Union Build­ings.

For a full gen­er­a­tion, the ANC has been a shoo-in to win ev­ery elec­tion and most peo­ple can­not con­ceive of any other out­come in 2019.

They over­look the fact that no-one, re­peat, no-one, would have pre­dicted five years ago that Solly Msi­manga, Athol Trol­lip and Her­man Mashaba would be the may­ors of Tsh­wane, Nel­son Man­dela Bay Metro and Joburg, re­spec­tively.

What hap­pens if Mmusi Maimane is the next in­cum­bent of the Union Build­ings, per­haps as the head of a DA-led coali­tion gov­ern­ment? If the ANC vote falls to below 50per­cent, that could hap­pen.

South Africa would then have its youngest pres­i­dent ever – Maimane is 36 years old. The pres­i­dent of the ANC would then be leader of the op­po­si­tion.

In con­sid­er­ing who it wants as its next leader, the ANC ought to be think­ing about this pos­si­bil­ity.

Ev­ery democ­racy needs a good and ef­fec­tive op­po­si­tion. A gov­ern­ment with a weak and poor op­po­si­tion can too eas­ily go off the rails. Peo­ple who as­sume power are un­der a great temp­ta­tion to think they will be there, and per­haps even should be there, for­ever. We know that Pres­i­dent Zuma feels the gov­ern­ment will (and should) re­main in power un­til Je­sus re­turns and sees noth­ing wrong in re­peat­ing the state­ment, not car­ing whether he gives of­fence to Chris­tians in the process.

Ar­ro­gance like that turns vot­ers off and be­ing hu­man, even a new gov­ern­ment might at some stage fall prey to the same hubris.

This is why a vig­or­ous, highly mo­ti­vated, well-briefed and well-led op­po­si­tion is es­sen­tial to the fur­ther demo­cratic de­vel­op­ment of our coun­try.

Some be­lieve that the gold stan­dard for op­po­si­tion was set by Tony Leon and his “mag­nif­i­cent seven” MPs from 1994 to 1999. (Dis­clo­sure: I was one of them). It will be re­called that the ANC still en­joyed the moral high ground in­ter­na­tion­ally and had not yet de­cayed and de­te­ri­o­rated in­ter­nally.

The con­sti­tu­tion pro­vided for the next big­gest party, the Na­tional Party, polling 20 per­cent of the votes, to get a deputy pres­i­dent and mem­ber­ship of the cab­i­net.

The third big­gest party, the IFP, polling 10 per­cent of the votes, was en­ti­tled to some seats in the cab­i­net.

The Free­dom Front, the fourth big­gest party, served the in­ter­ests of a frac­tion of one sec­tion of the white pop­u­la­tion and could in no sense be the leader of the op­po­si­tion thought and ac­tion. It was thus left to the Demo­cratic Party, fore­run­ner of the DA, un­der a new, un­tried 37-year-old Tony Leon, with only 1.7per­cent of the vot­ers sup­port­ing it, to be the real op­po­si­tion.

For­mer pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela wanted Leon in the cab­i­net, agree­ing he could say what he liked in­side but would have to de­fend it out­side. Leon de­clined.

This was a sem­i­nal mo­ment in post 1994 his­tory: he and his party be­lieved that the coun­try needed a proper op­po­si­tion much more than it needed a big­ger gov­ern­ment. The DP went on to make op­po­si­tion, even op­po­si­tion to Man­dela, re­spectable and es­tab­lished the idea that a firm un­der­pin­ning of prin­ci­pled op­po­si­tion is es­sen­tial to our con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy.

Can any­one se­ri­ously see Mbete fill­ing that role with any cred­i­bil­ity?

I think she would be lousy at the job. Or Ramaphosa? Or Dlamini-Zuma? Or Man­tashe? Or Mkhize? The next gen­er­a­tion of lead­ers, Min­is­ter of Home Af­fairs Malusi Gi­gaba and Min­is­ter of Sport and Recre­ation Fik­ile Mbalula fill one with gloom.

They are sim­ply not up to it. Don’t even men­tion the cur­rent ANC Youth League pres­i­dent, Collen Maine, nick­named Oros.

The ANC needs a good long pe­riod in op­po­si­tion to find its soul again; to find poli­cies that will res­onate with the vot­ers and be rel­e­vant to this cen­tury.

It must grow new lead­ers, get rid of the cor­rupt, the ca­reerists, and the band­wagon climbers who drag it down.

Pity they don’t ap­pear to have a leader of the op­po­si­tion in wait­ing. Or do they?

Now is the time to haul out some­one young with en­ergy, brains and ca­pac­ity who can be a match for Mmusi Maimane and Julius Malema.

UNIMPRESSIVE: Should ANC chair­per­son and Speaker in the Na­tional As­sem­bly Baleka Mbete be­come pres­i­dent of the ANC, she would be lousy at it, says the writer.

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