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Let's debate ANC leaders - Mbalula

By Fikile Mbalula | 2012-02-23 08:17:04.0

Generational mix is our guiding principal

THE debate about the future leadership of the ANC rages on.

This despite repeated indications by the current leadership that such debate should be deferred until a few weeks before the next congress in Mangaung.

Various leaders of the ANC have used several platforms to argue the merits and demerits of what has been termed "generational mix" as a principle of approaching leadership in the ANC.

Others have used these platforms to rubbish the principle, insinuating that engaging in such debate is political opportunism.

Others are brave to flatly deny that the ANC's leadership has been based on this principle over the years.

The reality is that even the comrades who deny the validity of the principle of generational mix are themselves beneficiaries of it.

They are agitated because those who have raised this debate have at the same time mentioned their preferred candidates.

A mature response to the debate about generational mix should be one that sets aside the names that have been presented and looks at the merit of this approach as a genuine attempt to use principles for electing leaders at the next congress. We should not devour principle because of political expediency!

The ANC has embraced the need for integration of leaders of various generations at each epoch of the revolution.

In other instances, those of previous generations have even stepped aside and given the helm to younger generations, once they proved themselves to be worthy of leading the movement.

A few examples in recent history are comrade Thabo Mbeki, who took leadership ahead of some elders because most people were happy with his performance.

Comrade Cyril Ramaphosa led the ANC alongside the generation of Nelson Mandela after contesting Alfred Nzo, the longest-serving secretary general of the ANC.

Thus generational mix should not be understood merely on the basis of age but also the role a person has played over the years, which makes both older and younger generations comfortable with him/her taking over a leadership role in the ANC.

And when the leadership of each generation takes over, it should be based on having achieved high levels of political maturity and intellectual zest arising from long years of service in the various structures of the movement.

Over and above this, the issue of leadership should be approached from the point of view of the challenges facing the ANC in the current period.

Denying South Africans this opportunity would result in the media hijacking the agenda for debating leadership in the ANC and would influence the discussion at convenient platforms.

If the media are left to deal with this matter on their own, journalists will inevitably find creative ways to set comrades against each other.

It does not take a highly learned professor to observe that the prevailing conditions are those of high levels of poverty, unemployment, a weak public education system and an ageing health infrastructure.

And this is the observation in the January 8 statement.

To address these challenges the ANC needs a leadership that can respond equally to the task.

Some have opted to refer to this as the need for a generational mix. The point has been made that the world is fast affirming younger leaders at the helm, who have the requisite energy and drive to fast-track development.

In the context of South Africa, the point has been made that to deal with these challenges the ANC should adopt a radical economic transformation programme.

What is important is to reflect on these positions rather than dismiss them.

In my view, the period between 1994 and now can be interpreted as the healing years of our democracy, when South Africa was attempting to formulate a non-racial society, moving away from being a polarised nation.

Leaders of various formations adopted a pact at Codesa that was meant to guide this task of rebuilding a divided country.

From the ANC we chose our best leaders and placed them in the front line of this new stage in our revolution.

While the ANC largely adhered to the commitments in the Codesa pact, others did not come along and deviated so much from it that the result has been the continued widening of the gap between rich and poor, still along racial lines.

White people remain largely in charge of the economy, with little impact having been generated by Black Economic Empowerment This is still felt by the majority of black people.

In an attempt to dissuade the ANC from getting tough with those who frustrate integration, some within the white community engineered a brain-drain phenomenon and encouraged the exodus of white professionals to foreign lands.

This was done in protest against attempts by the ANC to empower blacks to bring about equality and redress the imbalances of the past.

Fortunately, these experiments have failed and most of these professionals who were misled are coming back home in large numbers.

So we are at a point in our struggle where both black and white South Africans now fully understand that there is no other way of creating a new nation other than to cooperate and build bridges rather than continue to fool one another into believing that all is well.

We have to give praise to the ANC elders who helped us through this difficult healing period.

In many instances they have had to justify to an impatient black community why they were not pushing hard enough for change and transformation.

But now that the healing period should be considered to have been given its chance, one can argue that we have to open a chapter in the new century of the ANC that the period will be defined by radical transformation.

Economic emancipation of the previously and currently disadvantaged should be at the centre of this new part of our struggle.

Leadership is dynamic and should not be debated only based on congresses. What the ANC should discuss is how to reposition itself to be able to guide its leadership into looking far into the future and not merely look to a congress in a few months time.

The question has to be asked whether in their current form the structures of the ANC allow for smooth changes in leadership.

The fact that some positions have been traditionally associated with succession may not be healthy for the organisation.

Should it always follow that because you are a deputy president you automatically qualify as a candidate for president?

How do we deal with expectations of this nature that have been raised by the manner in which we have interpreted these positions ourselves?

Should the organisation not be smart enough and act in ways that remove these obvious expectations?

As Gauteng has begun the discussion, should not we create more positions of deputy secretary along specific responsibilities such as deputy secretary of organising, deputy secretary of political education, deputy secretary of organisation and mobilisation, and so on?

Isn't this a better way of creating a larger pool from which to draw a new secretary general than the current structure?

Shouldn't provincial chairpersons be considered to form part of the National Working Committee (NWC) so that the provinces can play a role in the intervening periods between NECs and thereby bring balance to the NWC?

These are discussion points about the leadership of the ANC that have no connotation to names of individual comrades but have the potential to affect the future leadership of the organisation in a positive way.

It does not help to deny the assertion that a younger leadership should exist alongside some elders because this is already happening in our organisation at the lower structures such as provinces and regions.

Soon this will become a non-issue and we will have missed the opportunity to give political and intellectual content to the kind of programmes and agendas this new leadership ought to define itself by.

I hope this input will not be mischievously interpreted to mean opening the leadership debate related merely to Mangaung, but will be dealt with from the broader context of leadership challenges as they pertain to those that confront the movement as it enters a new phase of struggle.

Generational mix is a principle of the ANC. It has guided the ANC, including in deploying cadres to various positions such as to Cabinet and other front lines.

To deny it is conveniently untruthful.

  • Mbalula is a national executive committee member of the ANC. He writes in his personal capacity.