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South Africans must guard against hero worshipping


Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar was born in Cape Town and raised by his determined mother, grandparents, aunt and the rest of his maternal family. He is an admitted attorney (formerly of the corporate hue), with recent exposure in the public sector, and is currently working on transport and infrastructure projects. He is a Mandela Washington Fellow, a Mandela Rhodes Scholar, and a WEF Global Shaper. He had a brief stint in the contemporary party politic environment working for Mamphela Ramphele as Agang CEO and chief-of-staff; he found the experience a deeply educational one.

As we mobilise to force the ANC out of its holding pattern of unity above all else around President Jacob Zuma we must guard against raising the faces of the resistance onto pedestals.

South Africa is trapped in an unsustainable holding pattern that only serves the interest of President Jacob Zuma. In the wake of that realisation, the ANC and in particular its National Working Committee has shown that it is unable to hold its president accountable. The ANC has somehow forgotten how to self-correct and act in the interest of the Republic and importantly in service of the people of this country. 

The ANC instead of dealing with its liability has reiterated that unity must come first. This, despite growing opposition to the ambivalence and inexplicable calls for unity. The opposition has come from across sectors including from its own alliance partners, the SACP and Cosatu who have issued clear statements calling on Zuma to resign. The assumption is that Zuma will do the right thing but we all know that there is no easy way to make Zuma do anything he does not want to do. The right thing is very far from his usual comfort zone. 

Critically, the SACP and Cosatu must do far more than simply issue statements and talk about accountability – they must act decisively and urgently. The alliance partners and ANC leaders will need to act within ANC structures in order to bring Zuma to heel. ANC members will have to reflect carefully on not only how history will remember them but also about the damage that is being carried out in their name against both the ANC and, importantly, against the Republic and its citizens.

While the internal forces within the ANC battle and oscillate, we must carry the weight of that call for unity, which in the face of this crisis does not serve the party, the Republic or South Africans. South Africans deserve to have leaders that are able to uphold the values, spirit and provisions of the Constitution and leaders, who have a deep commitment to service above all else. The current impasse and holding pattern thrust upon us by entrenching Zuma’s position is costing South Africans a great deal. 

The resistance is forming and gathering across South Africa. Just this past Wednesday, ten political parties gathered under a collective banner to stand against Zuma and all that he represents. Over 120,000 South Africans, passionate and mobilised, gathered to call on Zuma to resign and to remind the president that his time will come to account. The battle for what is just, right and fair will come knocking on his door soon enough. We will be able to mobilise despite the dogged support that Zuma still enjoys among those who are loyal to him and their own self-interest and greed. 

However, we must tread carefully and cautiously in the weeks ahead as we cannot continue to demonise and vilify Zuma and his camp of loyalist while raising the faces of the resistance on to pedestals. We witnessed the forces gather against former President Thabo Mbeki and we have come to give witness to the cost of that transition and the ensuing tsunami that gave rise to Zuma and his cabal.  We will have to think far more carefully about the risks of leaning into this narrative – failing to do so would create the stepping stones for our own misery and demise. 

We must guard against this tendency for hero worship. South Africans do not require or need new leaders on pedestals, instead we must start reminding leaders that they must serve the interest of the Republic and its people at all times. It is important that South Africans continue to gather as they have these past few weeks in order to confront not only the challenge of Zuma, and what he represents, but also around the societal issues that confront South Africans, the flaws of the 1994 political settlement patriarchy, unemployment, racism, prejudice, inequality and poverty. We have a great deal of work to do. This work must be started now while Zuma is still consuming all our attention and long after he is gone and long after we have forgotten all about him. 

This work will require us to have the right type of leaders, without the fanfare and pedestal-promoting, and a deep commitment to addressing the profound challenges that we must collectively acknowledge. We will need to move with urgency to implement the corrective action that will not only succeed in moving beyond the Zuma years but also in honouring and serving the people of South Africa. DM


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