Big-Man Syndrome will lessen the power of our democracy

The Eastern Cape ANC's controversial decision last weekend to urge President Thabo Mbeki to run for a third term is myopic and dangerous for the party and for the country.

The Eastern Cape ANC's controversial decision last weekend to urge President Thabo Mbeki to run for a third term is myopic and dangerous for the party and for the country.

It is also important to note that it is a decision that was passed through without all the party's regions and branches in the province being aware of it or supporting it.

It was engineered by provincial leaders sympathetic to Mbeki's cause, careless of the consequences of such an undemocratic adventure.

Unfortunately, the manner of its passing leaves many embittered ANC leaders in its wake. They, banding together with others in the SACP, Cosatu and anti-Mbeki forces in KwaZulu- Natal and elsewhere, will cause havoc to the party over the next few months.

This is not necessary. Mbeki should loudly and clearly say to the party that raised him: "Comrades, I have had my chance. I have done my best. I could do more if I had more time, but time is the enemy of man. My time has run out. Here is the baton. A new leader should take it."

That is what great leaders have done. They did it because one of life's great truths is: the source that gave rise to one great leader, is the same source of a thousand new and greater leaders.

The ANC has a great tradition of throwing up great leaders from its ranks. Chris Hani, Mbeki, Cyril Ramaphosa and many others come from this tradition. So why is the lie being perpetrated that there aren't enough leaders to step into Mbeki's shoes? Why now are we told that this one man - clever as he may be - has a monopoly on intellect and leadership?

I say that the Eastern Cape decision takes this great country back into the syndrome that brought many countries on the continent to their knees. It is generally known as the "Big Man Syndrome". Simply put, it holds that there is one big man and he should lead the country again and again, election after election. Look at the former Zaire and its leader Mobutu Sese Seko and you will know what we are talking about. Look at Zimbabwe. We do not want that here. A new broom is needed every five to ten years.

The dangerous part of this proposal is that it is seen by many as a power-grab and an attempt to block all other contenders for the ANC throne from ascending to the leadership. Their hearts and attitudes will harden. Their followers will be angry and look at anyone associated with Mbeki as part of a small, blessed coterie that has access to wealth and power. Instability will arise from this.

Mbeki has in general done a good job as president. He has had many failures, but all presidents have.

What he needs to do now is hand over to someone who will tackle his failures and consolidate his successes.

It is time to let go, Mr President. Don't be afraid.

Just do it.

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