Jameson Maluleke - 2007-12-14
The ANC is about to hold its 52nd national conference in Polokwane, yet leaders nominated as presidential candidates seem to have nothing to offer in terms of prophetic vision, insight and policy to guide the country to a prosperous future. People are subjected to the candidates' vacuous platitudes as they cast aspersions on one another, and the shout of "Umushini Wami" and other revolutionary slogans intended to gain political mileage.
While parties do have their own policies, this does not mean that nominated leaders should sit there like zombies waiting to be inaugurated as presidents when the designated day comes. The common people expect candidates to be creative, outspoken leaders who can articulate the partiy's policies in clear, everyday language. They should be able to tell the society why the party is still battling to fulfil its promises of "better life for all" and deliver basic services after more than a decade in power. An ideal presidential candidate should also be able to explain how he/she will deal with the notoriously corrupt Home Affairs Department, and the criminal justice system which continues to scare the much-needed foreign investment away.
In illuminating the party's policy, candidates should also be able to tell the people how they will make the country safe for every citizen to live in, what their approach will be to tackle social problems such as unemployment, starvation, poverty and the Aids scourge.
Despite this enormous responsibility that will weigh heavily on their shoulders, some candidates are not ashamed to make it clear that they will be out to make bags of money once their gods have made the mistake of anointing them to become presidents. A streak of personal ambition running through their meandering speeches is the more perceptible when they evoke the name of former President Mandela as their guiding light to the highest position in the land. They criss-cross the country, masquerading as true democrats while, at the same time, secretly replacing democratic principles with egoistic zeal.
Other worrying prospects are that interests groups of some presidential candidates demand power for their leaders at all cost, that is, irrespective of whether their leaders are competent or not. Already there is hush-hush talk that some interest groups are pushing impostors as presidential hopefuls to be the head of the state so that they, too, can secure an opportunity to plunder public funds without being admonished by their own chosen president. The whole idea is that the president will forfeit trust and responsibility vested in him in return for unlimited power. So clever are members of these interest groups that they can recite all phrases, slogans or wise sayings capable of uniting the party and ultimately bringing peace and prosperity to the country, while their actions are motivated by selfishness and greed. The effect of their recitation is a total confusion - people will obviously be at a loss as to understand who the actual wolf in sheep's clothing is and who the genuine leader of the people is. No doubt these vile actions would herald the advent of kleptocracy if they are not nipped in the bud.
Both President Thabo Mbeki and his ANC deputy, Jacob Zuma, are viewed as spoilers in the presidential race, and if one of them wins, it will take him years to unite the divided party. Pundits suggest that Mbeki and Zuma should withdraw from the race before they further tarnish both their images and that of the country itself. They are two old racehorses who have run the race well, and deserve to rest. Academic and political commentator Xolela Mangcu (The Star 5.11.2007) is convinced that "key players in the ANC succession battle should sit down and talk ahead of the party's Polokwane conference because a victory by Mbeki or Zuma might prove disastrous. The trouble with a Mbeki or a Zuma victory in Polokwane is that it may be difficult for both leaders to transcend their animosity."
Very few of the other nominees or contenders to the throne have offered to articulate their dreams as the country's future president. Many of them are lazily waiting for their branches to sell their leadership skills to the public. Unless these nominees convince the people that they are not seasoned dilly-dallying strategists, they will hopelessly fail to win the heart of the voters. People or voters if you like, are tired of waiting - they want an action program now.
Well, whichever side the Sangoma's divining bones land on the goat's skin, any popular leader who emerges victorious at the conference in Polokwane will soon see his/her popularity nosedive if he/she chooses to sit on his/her laurels rather than hit the ground running in his/her first few weeks of office. Not that the president-elect will find people living in Thomas Hobbes's1 state of nature where "Bellum omnium contra omnes" (war of all against all) obtains. But he/she will soon come face to face with the growing threat of factionalism within the party. It is just unfortunate that it has become fashionable, even amongst the grassroots members of the party, to fan this factionalism into licking flames. For its part, the media has gladly dubbed the coming conference a "The Battle of Succession", thus painting it as a vivid mini-Third World War. A "battle" implies that delegates at the conference will not only be engaged in jaw-jaw discourse - verbal combat – but will also engage themselves in fist-fighting; or that the real showdown will involve dangerous weapons, which might result in injury or even a loss of life to some. After that it will take decades for the combatants to unite as progressive members of the oldest party in the country.
Stepping into President Thabo Mbeki's shoes means that the president-elect will inherit corruption and dysfunctional bureaucracy, which continue to be a headache to the country's lawmakers. Violent crime will be another legacy of Mbeki's administration which the new supremo will have to deal with. The most formidable challenges remain popular anger, the widening gap between the haves and the non-haves, starvation and the scourge of Aids which has wiped hundreds, if not thousands, of families into extinction.
Again, being the country's president means that one will be an unconfirmed president of the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, and that he/she would be indirectly or directly responsible for millions of illegal immigrants flooding into the country to seek employment, food and shelter, as well as a cure for their Aids. His/her position will also imply moral responsibility for the safety and security of African sovereign states because their instability might also threaten peace and stability here at home. There is essentially no difference between democracy in South Africa and its continental commitments and responsibility.
Poor aliens, who fled their homelands from self-genocide, tyranny and a state of lawlessness, stream into the country because for them the South African democracy is a beacon of hope and a paradise which offers an opportunity for self-advancement. Whether the president-elect likes it or not, these foreigners will continue to share Madiba's miracle with the country's citizens. After all, Mbeki has set the standard of leadership by positioning the country as the patron of the entire continent - anything less than South Africa being "a land of milk and honey" would not be acceptable. So there is a great deal of spadework to be done by whoever ascends the throne.
It would be inappropriate for me to suggest some solutions as to how presidential candidates should conduct their campaign or how to be wise leaders afterwards. A leader who has been nurtured in democracy should be familiar with democratic principles and campaigning. He/she is fully aware of the dos and the don'ts of governing - for instance, it is undemocratic to be greedy and corrupt and rule one's people with an iron fist. National leaders read or hear statements on nation-building, like the one authored by party stalwarts like Saki Macozoma (Sunday Times, 4.11.07), nearly every day of the week: "We also need to keep in mind that an office in the ANC should not be a gateway to wealth accumulation - otherwise ANC politics will always be distorted. Use the state as an instrument of development, but encourage citizens to be autonomous of the state."
Yet they don't know how to respond - it has all become trite for them. Sheer selfishness: fame, power and money impact negatively on them, so that they care less about what is being said.
All the same, all presidential candidates will do well to spare five seconds of their precious time and "hearken well to the joyful tidings - of the golden future time" (George Orwell, l996).2
When Mandela became the country's first black president after three decades in detention, he neither longed for world wealth nor did he want to be president for life. He simply desired to be "a disciplined member of the ANC" and an obedient servant of his country and its people. Before a president-elect starts becoming a greedy despot and turns his ear from the cries of his people, he would do well to acquit himself with the dedication with which Mandela served his country.
Let us pray. May the Almighty God choose for us the very best of our national leaders in Polokwane. Amen!
2. George Orwell, Animal Farm, Penguin Group (USA), April 1996
1. Thomas Hobbes (April 5, 1588 - December 4, 1679) was an English philosopher and political theorist.