Trevor Manuel, giving the Kader Asmal Annual Lecture on 6 May 2017, made the views of comrade Asmal in 2007 known; Kader Asmal wanted Cyril Ramaphosa to succeed Thabo Mbeki, and not Jacob Zuma. He did not hide his disappointment when Ramaphosa declined the nomination.
Kader Asmal was one of the many leading ANC veterans who were known as straight shooters, including Govan Mbeki, father to Thabo Mbeki, leaders known never to hide their feelings to anyone who fell short of the ANC’s high standards of leadership, or anyone they just did not think was ANC worthy. It is no stretch of imagination to say the ANC’s 105 years are singularly owed to such leaders who were able to look each other in the eye and speak truth to one another, as cold as it may be.
All great leaders must play to legacy from day one in office. Yes, we want a charismatic leader, one that will preside over an economic revival, and more critically one that will change and elevate the view of the African National Congress. That leader must go a step further, they must elevate the view of the presidency.
The next president will be dealt a sucky hand, a divided organisation, a fracturing Rainbow Nation, unyielding vestiges of the past, an economy that needs to be jump-started, stubborn unemployment, education and health that are sub-par, and yes, we want a leader that will leave our country and our organisation better off by the time their terms of office are done.
We need a man or woman of great character. That character will be tested every time racist or unpatriotic people try to pull him/her down into the mud or question his/her love for country over party. We want a leader that will fly above it all. And, yes, he/she must take most of us with him/her.
Our next leader must be a leader not only of our country but of our mood and disposition, which are harder to rule. At a time when we have become more polarised, our discourse pettier and more poisoned, the next leader must always came across as the adult in the room, the one we want to be and follow. We need a leader who appreciates the power of words; that words used wisely can in themselves become acts of government. Words at pivotal moments are not only how we come to admire great leaders, it’s the primary way we remember them. A leader that can use words to inspire at a time when we are scrambling at the bottom of the barrel for inspiration will have long-lasting greatness.
As our unity becomes more frayed, more tenuous, to unify where and however we can, here, we need a leader that can point the way forward. In the face of rising chaos, we crave unity all the more. The absurdity and car-crash spectacle of the current political landscape already requires the next leader to possess an out-of-time quality. We want a leader that we can look back at and say, that man was rare. And we were damn lucky to have him.
One of the most important documents ever produced by the ANC is Through the eye of the Needle. The document, simply put, is the moral campus of the organisation. The term itself was carried by the son of men, setting the lofty standards into the kingdom of his father. The ANC, considering itself a royal priesthood, whose principles are above universal scrutiny, would adopt the highest standards for ANC members and leaders both to win the hearts of men and to earn our right to lead.
There is something interesting though about Kader Asmal’s discontent. What would make him object to Jacob Zuma succeeding Mbeki, but not object to Zuma being elected as deputy to Thabo Mbeki. Why are these lofty standards that we require not focused, with equal measure, on the position of Deputy President?
In 1992, Bill Clinton, as quoted by Obama years later, said the one important criterion for choosing a vice president is that in the unfortunate event that the president drops, that person must be able to run the country with equal capabilities and skill. The position of deputy president is therefore not a passive one, and it is certainly not one to be seen as less important to that of president, but rather one that represents both the present and the future.
Contrary to the self-serving edge to talk the ANC down and paint a picture of a party that may lose elections in 2019 or 2024, this is not going to happen for at least a few generations, if at all. The reason for this is that there is no organisation that moves up and down the social spectrum as the ANC does. The ANC is a multiclass, multiracial, multi-ideological party, something that takes almost divine providence to maintain and sustain. The ANC has done it for 105 years and will likely do it for another 100. The ANC is therefore both a party of the present and party of the future.
The position of deputy president, for a party of the future, becomes very important. The ANC branches must therefore state it unequivocally through their vote, that they want presidential material from their deputy president, not an assistant.
The view in 2012 was that Cyril Ramaphosa was elected to the deputy presidency purely to appease the fears of business. In other parts of the world deputies are elected to ease warring organs. In the US, Joe Biden was said to have been elected to cover the fears about age and experience, fears that had come up over and over during Obama’s campaign. All these are wrong reasons for electing a deputy president.
The ANC, a 1-million-people strong organisation and 12-million-strong supporters, is spoilt for choice when it comes to leadership and fit-to-govern leaders. Our criteria for choosing a future leader must go into the nuts and bolts of leadership.
The position of the deputy president can lend extra panache to the whole presidency and carve out untold new possibilities for the office. Without any fear of contradiction, a deputy president must be a match for the president, particularly because a deputy president of the ANC is elected by the same conference that elects a president, so it is not a favour. As a leader of government business the deputy president must be a model enforcer, keeping Cabinet in line and shielding government from frivolity and opportunism from political opposition with great vigour.
What we need is a deputy president that will show presidential potential, and this puts the task of the ANC delegates one of ensuring that the future of the ANC and country is secured, because we have come to appreciate, more so that we should have appreciated in the past, that the deputy president must necessarily represent both the present and the future. DM