Far cry from Biko's political approach
STEVE Biko's leadership has lessons for contemporary discussions of leadership and succession in South Africa.
His friend, Aelred Stubbs, has described Biko' s "extraordinary gift of leadership" as consisting of his ability to develop layers of leadership under him.
This empowering of other leaders started from the very beginning of the movement when he insisted on Barney Pityana taking over as president of the newly formed Saso (South African Students Organisation).
According to Stubbs, "It was an integral part of Steve's greatness as a leader that he could step down and give loyal service to someone as yet very little known outside Eastern Cape. If Steve's had been the kind of leader who kept everything in his own hands, the whole thing would have collapsed."
Stubbs adds: "Whereas other leaders tended to see themselves as Leaders with a capital L, I never saw any sign of this with Steve."
Stubbs also notes that "strong organisation was important to him to prevent the emergence of the big man syndrome in the movement".
This was necessary if democracy were going to be more than the sum of its parts - bigger than the individuals who make up its leadership.
Nelson Mandela was acutely aware of the dangers of charismatic leadership and stepped down after one term in office though the presidency was his for the taking for another term.
He was succeeded by Thabo Mbeki, who sounded hopeful notes of a return to the cultural themes that were the hallmarks of the Black Consciousness and Pan Africanist movements.
Mbeki advocated the African Renaissance as leitmotif for Africa's cultural, political and economic revival.
Unfortunately, the African Renaissance quickly became no more than what Amilcar Cabral called " a cultural renaissance that was expressed in European languages, which the indigenous people could not understand".
What was supposed to be a public philosophy became a measure of private loyalty to the leader and an instrument of economic gain for the politically well-connected.
A couple of conferences were organised in Sandton and nothing has been heard of the renaissance since.
In the words of Achille Mbembe, Mbeki "made enemies of people who could have been his friends . and of those he could have easily won over by charm, persuasion or carefully listening to them".
Jacob Zuma emerged as the classic charismatic hero, representing the interests of the alienated masses and many of those who had been hurt by Mbeki.
That is how Zuma was able to put together one of the most remarkable political alliances of the post-democratic era - from pimps and hooligans to stripe-suited businessmen, trade unionists and opinion makers. He thus ascended to power less because he was loved and more because Mbeki was hated.
Though excited about Zuma's presidency I left room for doubt in my book, The Democratic Moment: "The question at the end of the day is whether the new leadership under Jacob Zuma has the emotional temperament, the ethical moral commitment, the political willingness and the institutional resources needed for the revival of democracy. If they do not, then we will be in no better position than we were under Mbeki. In fact, we might even be in worse shape."
It was only a matter of time before allegations of corruption against Zuma's administration began to surface and before the President himself started to behave in pretty much the same way as his predecessor.
Zuma would come to represent a type of leadership described by Max Weber as prebendalism. Under this kind of leadership, there is no distinction between public authority and private interests.
This is not the place to go into detail about Zuma's leadership other than to say it has prebendalism written all over it.
According to Plaut and Holden, "...the president's wives, children and other persons closely associated with him have developed 220 businesses between them, many established since Zuma became president."
Zuma did not cover himself in glory by making a series of high-level decisions that were overturned by the courts - from the appointment of former director of the National Prosecutions Authority Menzi Simelane to the attempt to extend Constitutional Court Justice Sandile Ngcobo's tenure and the Supreme Court of Appeals ruling permitting a judicial review of the NPA's decision to drop corruption charges against the president.
It is in the light of all these reversals that Zuma called for the powers of the Constitutional Court to be reviewed. He thus brings to mind the emperor Napoleon, who complained: "A constitution must not interfere with the process of government, nor be written in a way that would force the government to violate it."
When the government did not allow the Dalai Lama to attend Archbishop Desmond Tutu's birthday, Tutu angrily said: "You do not represent me, Mr Zuma, you represent yourself and your interests."
Tutu's response captured the essence of our current malaise: that material interests instead of values have taken over our political culture. That is a far cry from Biko's approach to politics.
- This is an excerpt from Biko: A Biography by Xolela Mangcu. Mangcu is associate professor of sociology at the University of Cape Town