At the zenith of Nelson Mandela’s presidency, SA was viewed as the bastion of non-racism, non-sexism, reconciliation, morality, social justice and equality, and a beacon of hope for the oppressed and downtrodden, globally. An indication of how far off the global stage SA has fallen is evident from the judgment of the International Criminal Court on 6 July 2017, “that, by not arresting Omar Al-Bashir while he was on its territory between 13 and 15 June 2015, South Africa failed to comply with the court’s request … in connection with the criminal proceedings instituted against (him)”.
The success of Mandela and his generation, as Professor William Gumede has argued, was “to turn the struggle against apartheid into a moral struggle: in fact, to turn it into a global moral struggle. This strategy could not have succeeded without leaders with huge moral authority who, by their individual ethical and moral conduct, reinforced the moral dimensions of the struggle”. Trevor Manuel maintained that the “deep tragedy” was that the values of Mandela have been usurped by the “opportunism of office”. And one could add, the pursuit of tenders and quick, questionable wealth.
In his opening address at the King IV Conference on 1 November 2016, intellectual and business leader, Dr Reuel Khoza, expanded on the notion of leadership and morality: “Leadership that is predicated on morality and moral authority is a fundamental requirement for a political economy guided by the rule of law and committed to serving the national interest. Toxic behaviour flourishes where institutions are abused for sectional and selfish pursuits by misleadership. One consequence is that institutions that underpin a sound democracy are rendered ineffectual.”
Mandela was stung by the deviation from morality and appalled by the high levels of corruption, as revealed in several national and international media interviews in March 2001: “Little did we suspect that our own people, when they got a chance, would be as corrupt as the apartheid regime. That is one of the things that has really hurt us. Nothing in our struggle for liberation entitles an individual to think that he has a right to rob the public … members (of the ANC) must not be lapdogs. The proper thing to do is to have free and vigorous debate on every issue and to criticise everybody, including the president.”
Given the onslaught against the critical, independent media (recently orchestrated from that compound in Saxonwold), it is useful to repeat Mandela’s views on press freedom:
“A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference. It must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials. It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring, without fear or favour. It must enjoy the protection of the Constitution, so that it can protect our rights as citizens.”
In April 2011, Gwede Mantashe said that “the main opposition is the media”. This was followed up by an October 2015 ANC discussion document that contended that the media was “ganging up” on the party.
Leaders committed to democracy will promote and protect press freedom. Dr Reuel Khoza elaborated on characteristics of good leaders, which included building and maintaining trust; protecting the vulnerable; being responsible and accountable for actions, rather than shifting the blame, and being sensitive to the sentiments of their constituencies: “A leader who is not attuned to his or her followers soon becomes a leader in limbo, and invariably then falls.”
So in the post-Mandela era, who sets the leadership bar for the ANC – the Guptas, Bell Pottinger, Des van Rooyen, Mosebenzi Zwane, Malusi Gigaba, Brian Molefe, Ben Ngubane, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, Jimmy Manyi, Lindiwe Sisulu, Zweli Mkhize, Makhosi Khosa or Cyril Ramaphosa?
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Addressing a fundraising dinner of the United Methodist Church of Southern Africa in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape on 7 July 2017 (the next round would be kissing babies in public), presidential contender Cyril Ramaphosa acknowledged that the ANC must focus its energies to “regain the moral force that justifies our own existence … We have to regain the lost ground that we have sacrificed by focusing too much on internal contestations and contradictions. We must again carry the burden of our people and shoulder our commitment to leading them to the promised land”.
The presidential aspirant argued that: “We need to remind ourselves of the kind of society of which we have dreamed for so long, for which we have fought and for which so many lost their lives. We need, all of us, to renew our commitment to strive together, side by side, until we have achieved that society [sub-text: Mandela’s vision].” Can he walk the talk? If so, then he may well be the best candidate of a mediocre lot.
A starting point for Ramaphosa would be to reflect on Mandela’s leadership style, and especially his humility: “I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people. Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today. I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands.”
And to acknowledge frailties, of which Mandela was only too well aware, especially his own: “One of the things that worried me – to be raised to the position of a semi-god – because then you are no longer a human being. I wanted to be known as Mandela, a man with weaknesses, some of which are fundamental, and a man who is committed, but nevertheless, sometimes he fails to live up to expectations.”
The sub-text of Mantashe’s rant was that the ANC and its current crop of leaders must not be judged by the lofty ideals and principles of Mandela, Tambo or Sisulu. Like it or not, presidents, governments and ruling parties in a democratic South Africa will be judged by the extent to which they promote the ideals, values and principles of Nelson Mandela, or deviate therefrom. DM
Brij Maharaj is a geography professor at UKZN. He writes in his personal capacity.
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