Opinionista Xhanti Payi 11 June 2010

Of snake myths and political realities

When I was little we believed that if you cut a snake’s tale off, the snake would grow another one. Sometimes, the tail itself would grow its own head. I found this particularly terrifying because then, not only one snake was after you, but two.

Until this day, I’ve never found out if this is true or not, but looking at the events in South African politics, I think there might be something to it.

Reading about an alleged plan or suggestion by Cope deputy president Mbhazima Shilowa to provide a neutral interim leader for the party, I couldn’t believe how my own idiom had become reality.

Didn’t something similar happen when the ANC sacked Thabo Mbeki after the party’s leadership found that he had failed to lead the party, passed a vote of no confidence and recalled him as the country’s president?  Right afterwards, the ANC replaced him with an interim president, while the leader they had confidence in waited in the wings, sorting out some legal issues such as court appeals and defending himself against the abuse of his rights.

Seems the break-away party does the same thing. They sack their president in a vote of no confidence, legal battles ensue, so an interim president is suggested.

In my opinion, the problem started with the ANC, which decided to completely disregard the basic principles of leadership and opted to re-invent the wheel in this regard. So instead of having a leader who leads from the front, directing members and leading opinion, they choose a model of communal leadership, where you have a president who isn’t really the main-man and decider, but a group. In this model, supporters and followers don’t follow the leader, they lead with the leader. Everyone decides on everything, and the leader just implements. So when people go to the polls, they vote not for the man, but for the party.

It is not the man’s charisma, personal qualities, attributes and leadership ability that people vote for,  but for the party or its members-collectively. Faulty as the leader may be, he’s not the man, he’s not the leader. The party is the leader. The leader’s voice and influence is just one among many.

And then, when it’s time for elections, the party puts together two leaders, since leaders are nominated by the party, and we have a face-off.

Guess what, as is likely to happen when a contest is between two only, a split happens as members are divided in different proportions.

Having broken away from the ANC, one would have expected that Cope would have learnt to populate the leadership contest with more than two candidates, to avoid a contest that would inevitably split the party. Had they allowed or promoted the advancement of more than two candidates, it would have been impossible to split the party. In my short experience and limited knowledge of history, I have never heard of any political party or organisation that has split into four or five as members disagreed on leadership.

So it would make sense to allow the voters more candidates. Wouldn’t that be better for the voters, and the party, allowing for a variety of views and opinion?

So it seems that in Cope, unsurprisingly, we have the ANC reincarnated. And I have coined my own idiom. The snake split in two, the head grows back and now we have two of the same animal.

(A quick disclaimer; although some may think so, I don’t believe political parties or politicians are to be likened to snakes.  It just seems to work for my theory this time.)


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