With the ANC seemingly in a constant state of self-perpetuated crisis that has placed the South African body politic in an apparently permanent state of inertia, as revolutionaries, we have to ask ourselves a question that is based on the title of a book that was edited in 1988 by a luminary of our historical struggle for the total emancipation of the people of South Africa, Professor Bernard Makhosezwe Magubane: Whither ANC? Whither South Africa?
With the ANC having been a strategic centre of power, more specifically within the post-1994 dispensation, it goes without saying that the internal struggles in the party have a direct bearing and impact on the health and wellbeing of South African society at large.
As revolutionaries, we have to constantly be open to criticism and self-criticism if we are to achieve the objectives of the ANC — a revolutionary democratic movement, a national democratic movement, a mass movement that seeks to bring about fundamental socioeconomic transformation to create a better life for all South Africans.
A good place to start for those who have been elected to positions of authority and seniority within the movement is to openly acknowledge that a) you don’t have to be in a leadership position to advance the interests of the revolution and the people of South Africa, hence this obsession with being elected to leadership at all costs must be nipped in the bud; and b) leadership is not about status, but is a rare privilege that is bestowed on those who are genuine revolutionaries; those who have integrity and also have the capacity and willingness to execute their revolutionary responsibilities to the benefit of the people of South Africa.
This is borne out in the ANC’s own document, Through the Eye of a Needle, when it states the following:
“As a movement for fundamental change, the ANC regularly has to elect leaders at various levels who are equal to the challenge of each phase of struggle. Such leaders should represent the motive forces of the struggle. To become an ANC leader is not an entitlement. It should not be an easy process attached merely to status. It should be informed first and foremost by the desire and commitment to serve the people, and a track record appreciated by ANC members and communities alike.
“Those in leadership positions should unite and guide the movement to be at the head of the process of change. They should lead the movement in its mission to organise and inspire the masses to be their own liberators. They should lead the task of governance with diligence. And, together, they should reflect continuity of a revolutionary tradition and renewal which sustains the movement in the long-term.”
Through the Eye of a Needle goes on to make the following germane point, as we battle with our contemporary challenges:
“Besides, the door can be left open for corrupt individuals and even enemies of change, to exploit the movement’s internal democracy to sabotage the struggle and create their own ANC. Further, those who fail in positions of authority can use all kinds of excuses to cling to power, when the time for change has come.”
As leaders who have been elected and tasked with advancing the revolution on behalf of the people, we should take our cue from the revolutionary leadership, life and example of our former president, OR Tambo.
The story is told about OR Tambo’s days at Saint Peter’s Secondary School. There were those pushing for him to become the head prefect of the school, which Tambo politely declined in favour of another learner who Tambo thought was more relevant for the head prefect role at the time. Tambo proceeded to be elected as deputy head prefect and worked within the collective to advance the interests of learners at Saint Peter’s Secondary School at the time.
This refusal to define himself outside of a collective leadership — and to reject all forms of individual advancement if that came at the expense of the broader objectives of those he represented and led — characterised OR Tambo at various stages of his activism and leadership. These are the types of traits we should aspire to live up to as leaders within this glorious revolutionary movement which Tambo led with such distinction for decades.
Tambo was not one addicted to wanting to lead at all costs, and he always put the interests of the revolution above his own ambitions and interests.
For OR Tambo, who defined himself within the confines of a revolutionary movement and generation of outstanding leaders, there was no “I” or “Me” in his pursuit of the struggle. We would do well to reflect on this, as contemporary leaders of the ANC.
At the epoch-defining Morogoro Conference of the ANC in 1969, Tambo showed the same admirable revolutionary leadership traits when he tendered his resignation, as the ANC leadership collective at the time was under severe attack on a range of issues, some of which bear an uncanny similarity to contemporary attacks on the ANC’s leadership today: elitism, corruption, prioritising luxurious lifestyles at the expense of advancing the revolution, and so on.
Of course, the conference rejected Tambo’s resignation and returned him to his position as president-general of the ANC, but what is exemplary and admirable about Tambo once again, is that he was not obsessed with being in a leadership position or advancing his own ambitions at the expense of the revolution, hence his willingness to offer to step aside.
Interestingly enough, at the same conference, Comrade Mavuso Msimang, who had been earmarked by Tambo as one of the “young Turks” who should be elected to the NEC, declined that nomination, with the aim of concentrating on furthering his education to be better equipped to serve the revolution.
In Msimang’s own words, “It was difficult for me to see people preparing themselves for the future while I was concentrating solely on the movement. There were people that I thought were more capable and could do much better.”
With our contemporary calls for “generational mix” and “40% waleyompahla”, a call for younger leaders to take over leadership positions within the ANC and the state — something which is neither innately progressive nor bad in and of itself — one wonders how many of us as younger leaders within the movement have thought about leadership responsibilities with the same attitude and revolutionary conviction as Comrade Mavuso Msimang?
In answer to the question, whither ANC? Whither South Africa? As part of our contribution to the renewal of the ANC, in light of the state of the ANC and of South Africa as a direct result of that and the negative perceptions that seem to exist of the ANC’s leadership within society — given that the ANC is a “People’s Parliament”, to quote from OR Tambo’s opening speech at the 1991 conference — perhaps it behoves us all as ANC leaders, from NEC members all the way down, to step aside and allow others who are more relevant to this current phase of the revolution to lead, for the sake of the revolution and our beloved movement.
This is not a populist call for the sake of appeasing society and appearing to be more relevant, but rather a sincere call for all of us to do some soul-searching… to take a moment for critical self-reflection in line with the spirit and ethos of the Morogoro Conference; to ask ourselves whether we are indeed the ones who should be a part of the leadership collective tasked with advancing the revolution and its objectives, à la the example set by the likes of OR Tambo and Mavuso Msimang. DM