Prince Mashele came in for some stick for asserting Jacob Zuma was the worst president the ANC had ever had. His reasoning may have been flawed and tinged with elitism, but the assertion was correct.
“Leadership is a verb”, an Investec advertisement once held. It’s one of those easy-on-the-ear expressions which, while linguistically incorrect, makes intuitive sense. The process by which you guide a group of people is not defined by your being in the position of guide. It’s defined by your actions.
Zuma was hesitant to appraise his own performance. Instead he deflected the question of his legacy by suggesting he was being asked to write his own obituary, probably because he sees himself leading the ANC for another five years. He might believe there is much time to pass before his story is written. But history repeats itself. Zuma’s next five years, and he probably will get another term despite the “clairvoyant” Floyd Shivambu’s predictions, will be characterised by the same factionalism as the preceding five.
We need to look no further than the horse-and-pony show the ANC has become before and after Zuma’s ascent for evidence of what’s to come. One would hope the incomprehensible comedy has, for now, reached its peak with Tuesday’s three farcical Luthuli House press conferences and Wednesday’s summary suspension of Julius Malema, but it’s entirely possible with eight months to go until the party’s electoral conference, we’re only now warming up.
The party’s secretary general, Gwede Mantashe, spoke on Tuesday about actions apparently alien to the ANC, such as using the organisation’s celebrations to sow division and discord. He also said the party discouraged raising individuals or personalities above the organisation because this created personality cults. But to ascend to lead the organisation, Zuma elevated himself (or allowed himself to be elevated) above the organisation, creating a cult of Zuma supporters and, by default, a cult of those opposed to him. Those for and against him subordinated their loyalty to the organisation in favour of personalities. Such is the extent of the subordination that Zuma’s supporters swore to kill for him. Presumably it would be those opposed who’d be killed, even if they were ANC members.
That the same people who swore to kill for him –Julius Malema and Zwelinzima Vavi – are the ones that now want him out typifies what’s become of the party under Zuma and is a harbinger of what’s to come.
Of course Zuma’s predecessor Thabo Mbeki was not blameless in this. He’d probably get the title of the second worst ANC president, solely for his role in creating the situation in which members of an organisation that is, by design, collectivist congealed around individuals.
The ANC today is a shadow of the movement it once was largely because of the factionalism that arose from Zuma’s leadership tussle with Mbeki. After taking the helm of an organisation where 40% of the ordinary members voted for the man he defeated, Zuma did far too little to reconcile and reunite warring factions. That surely was something you would expect even a so-so leader to do.
If Zuma truly subscribed to the ANC’s philosophy of the party above all else and were he a man of foresight and character, he ought to have foreseen how divisive his battle with Mbeki would be. What clearer picture did he need of the divisions than ANC members wearing T-shirts bearing his face burning those bearing that of his predecessor? And what clearer picture that those divisions continue to exist does he need other than seeing ANC members torch T-shirts bearing his face?
Instead now, as he did then, he issues stern rebukes, but seemingly does not recognise his own role in the existence of the divisions.
The party’s collectivist nature was always going to be under pressure from the outside as Western values clashed with African perspectives. But by subverting collectivism from the inside, Zuma did more damage than any outside influence ever could have done. Now even contests for lower positions within the party are increasingly staked on individuals and personalities not the greater good of the organisation.
I’ve said before that for all his ingratiating rhetoric about ending factionalism in the ANC, Zuma can never actually follow through on this because factionalism is how he rose to power. I also said the only way Zuma can end factionalism is to eliminate all opposing factions. With Malema’s summary suspension, I guess that’s what he’s opted for. But he’d best be sure to get all those opposed, because the bruising battles in which he’s engaged create hurt feelings that fester and grow before returning for vengeance. DM
Osiame Molefe is a writer with a keen interest in the space where personal and societal ambitions intersect with technology, politics and economics. That intersect right now, in South Africa, has brought him to observing, researching and writing on racial and gender inequality, and how well, or poorly, dialogue around these issues takes place. His column deals with these and issues tangential. When he is not writing news, analysis and opinion, he reads speculative fiction and writes some, too. Rumour is he single-handedly keeps the South African sparkling wine industry afloat. In a former life, he worked as a chartered accountant in New York, Bermuda and Johannesburg, but has since fled that industry in pursuit of a life less grey. He holds a bachelors degree in accountancy from Rhodes University, but don’t let that fool you into believing he has a head for numbers. He does not.
"Sometimes the best way to help someone is just to be near them." ~ Veronica Roth
"Men are good in one way, but bad in many" ~ Aristotle