Will the ANC suffer if Zuma goes?
AMID the noises and mudslinging in the ANC leadership battles, two schools of thought have emerged.
There is a group of collectivists who believe that President Jacob Zuma should be re-elected in Mangaung.
They argue that the failures of the governing party cannot be blamed on him alone. The collective is responsible, but should be re-elected. Only those opposed to Zuma should face the chop.
The decline of the ANC's electoral support, rising social and labour unrest, the decline of the economy, negative downgrades by rating agencies and the deadly struggle to loot state resources should not be attributable to Zuma's leadership.
Even the construction of the Nkandla Estate - a classic "it's our turn to eat" project - is part of the collective!
The collectivists have a one-dimensional view of leadership.
For them individual capability and exemplary conduct are irrelevant.
Were politics a soccer game, individual brilliance would not really matter in the eyes of the collectivists. Anyone who dares call for such would be punished or ostracised. They reject the notion that a leader could be subjected to individual scrutiny.
The collectivists are very dangerous. Their overemphasis of a collective approach above all else makes it easy for a bad leader to hide his weaknesses behind the veil of the collective.
It also has the potential to suppress individual talent because any achievement is attributable to the collective.
There is hardly individual accountability. Because leadership is seen in group terms, the collectivists do not believe that the top leaders should possess extraordinary talent.
He could be a dwarf among the group and he would still be perfectly fine. He could be the least competent of the group but would still be worthy.
He might have a personality that contradicts the messages of his own government. Yet there would be nothing wrong with it because he, in the minds of the collectivists, is not in charge; the collective is. He might represent a dangerously archaic lifestyle, yet he would be hailed.
More importantly, this group does not take into account the fact that anyone who becomes the president of the country is entitled to take certain important decisions without the collective.
The president has a right to take such decisions in terms of the Constitution. If we take the collectivists' approach to its logical conclusion, the ANC leadership or the entire cabinet would be guilty of being "irrational", as the court described Zuma following his ill-fated appointment of Advocate Menzi Simelane as national director of public prosecution.
But because of the dishonesty of this group none of its members would want to be described as "irrational". They could sue for defamation.
So they are happy to be associated with the leader under the guise of the collective, but too quick to distance themselves when the leader takes decisions in terms of his own understanding of what the "collective" expects of him.
And whenever Zuma is described as corruptible, morally suspect or any such terms, the collectivists are quick to point out that the president should not be judged.
He has, they would argue, a right to live his life the way he wants - exemplary or not. This group is prepared to dump the ANC's own guidelines about what is expected of a leader.
The importance of exemplary conduct is one criterion repeated in several ANC documents, including the strategy and tactics adopted in Polokwane.
Yet, for the collectivists this is irrelevant and a nuisance requirement.
Now, let's consider the meritocrats who believe in individual brilliance. This group believes that a leader should tower above the rest.
He should lead by example and must be competent as an individual first before he is considered suitable enough to work with a group from an equally competent collective.
This group believes that leadership is earned. Those who aspire to lead should demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt their credentials. A leader is accountable for his conduct, actions and decisions.
Those who subscribe to this thinking believe leadership should be earned by way of excellent deeds, decision-making and conduct.
This group of meritocrats, while appreciating the importance of team effort, also believe that this should not be an end in itself - it should help unleash individual skill.
The trouble with this group is that it is backing Kgalema Motlanthe on the basis that he is better than Zuma.
They hardly articulate why they believe Motlanthe towers above the rest.
Instead, he is defined in the negative - he is not Zuma.
History could be repeating itself here: wasn't Zuma elected on the basis that he was "not Mbeki"?
What is lacking among the collectivists and the meritocrats is an appreciation of what political scientist John Kane calls the dialectic relationship between a leader and the institution he is elected to preside over or the dialectic relationship between the individual and his organisation.
Both the collectivists and meritocrats need to consider whether Zuma has enhanced the stature of the ANC or government. What would he be like if stripped of the leadership position?
Would the Presidency or the ANC as institutions suffer a loss or gain? Is he expendable?
Is he the one who stands to lose more than the ANC and government? Who could possibly enhance the stature of the ANC and government? Motlanthe?