As we celebrate President Nelson Mandela’s centennial birthday year, there are lessons we can draw from the life and example of Mandela and his generation of freedom fighters that can help us find a way past the current political impasse we find ourselves in.
On the night before his release after spending 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela held a secret meeting with former President F.W De Klerk, in which he was told by De Klerk that he would be a free man the next day. Upon hearing this, Mandela was deeply taken aback and as he himself explains in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom,
“I deeply wanted to leave prison as soon as I could, but to do so on such short notice would not be wise. I thanked Mr De Klerk, and then said that at the risk of appearing ungrateful I would prefer to have a week’s notice in order that my family and my organisation could be prepared.”
Here was a man who had spent 27 years in prison, fighting for the freedom of his people, finally being offered his freedom back and his first thought was about safeguarding the interests of the organisation, even if it meant delaying his own personal freedom a while longer. This is the kind of selfless devotion to the organisation that Nelson Mandela and his ilk showed during the anti-apartheid Struggle.
This was something he himself would re-iterate in his address to the closing session of the ANCs 50th national conference at Mafikeng in 1997,
“On a more serious note though, I wish to reiterate that I will remain a disciplined member of the ANC and in my last months in government office I will always be guided by the ANC’s policies, and find mechanisms that will allow you to rap me over the knuckles for any indiscretions.”
For Mandela and his generation, leadership of the ANC meant being led and guided by the ANC, because it is the ANC which is the leader and strategic centre of society, not individual leaders. So it is a foreign thing to see individual leaders of the ANC defying the ANC, as represented by its official structures.
There has been a concerted effort from some within the media and opposition parties to separate the person of Mandela from the African National Congress, something that he would have refuted, because for Mandela it was the ANC that was the centre, it was the ANC (and its allies) that made him, it was the ANC to which he was loyal insofar as it represented the ideals and aspirations of the people of South Africa.
His own words in Mafikeng, 1997 bear this out when talking about the impact of the likes of OR Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Moses Kotane, Yusuf Dadoo, Bram Fischer and Michael Harmel had on his development as a cadre,
“All these giants and more – the living and the dead – were the band of comrades who not only compensated for my own weaknesses, but they also assigned me tasks where my strengths could grow and thrive. What I am today is because of them; it is because of the ANC; it is because of the Tri-partite Alliance.”
The ANC seeks to fundamentally transform the lives of all South Africans, especially the poor, and any form of leadership that causes the organisation to deviate from this path should step aside in order that the organisation can fulfil its historical mandate.
As comrade Joel Netshitenzhe so aptly put it in an OR Tambo lecture a few years ago,
“A defective leadership not only holds back the attainment of national objectives. It also presents a difficult conundrum for the movement: in that, to rationalise its bad choices, the ANC has to lower itself to embrace those defects of the leaders it has chosen as its own defects. Steadily, these defects of the individual leaders become by default the collective property of the organisation, its own blind spots and its subliminal attributes in the public imagination.”
So, unlike opposition parties, we have a vested interest in ensuring a smooth transition in government from the leadership of President Zuma to that of ANC President Ramaphosa, because we want to continue fulfilling our revolutionary objectives as a people’s movement.
In fact, in truth, the opposition is truly being disingenuous when they try to put the ANC under pressure to remove President Zuma as quickly as possible, because they don’t want him to really go. With all the scandals that he has been involved in over the years and the negative perception that this has created around the ANC, he is actually their best campaign weapon as 2019 elections approach.
It is to the collective wisdom of the ANC, in line with the example set by Mandela et al, that the current sitting president of the Republic, as a deployee of the ANC, must bow. We all know that President Zuma is going to step down. The real question at hand is the when and how, and the newly elected leadership of the ANC in its collective wisdom is busy with a process that will lead to President Zuma’s departure in a manner that will ensure that the ANC continues to lead in taking South African society forward.
In learning from the life and example of Nelson Mandela and his ilk, we must at all times continue to work at strengthening the ANC and part of that entails following the lead of the current ANC leadership in its push for unity, because a strong ANC equals a strong South Africa. DM
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