Toeing the party line to avoid getting your feet wet

In my years as journalist I have come to accept that if, as ordinary citizens, we are from Venus, then politicians are from Mars.

In my years as journalist I have come to accept that if, as ordinary citizens, we are from Venus, then politicians are from Mars.

Essentially politicians are not good communicators. This is because most of the time they engage in double-speak. My suspicion is that they use double- speak as a tool to wriggle out of situations that could compromise their integrity.

Last weekend, while visiting the Eastern Cape, President Thabo Mbeki was asked a simple question.

He was asked by the Eastern Cape provincial leadership if he would be available for re-election as the ANC president at the party's national conference in December.

That was a straight forward question that needed a "yes" or a "no" answer. But this was not for Mbeki as it turned out.

He instead gave them the tired line about doing what the party asks him to do.

He would always be available for deployment by the party into any position, Mbeki told his supporters.

This unfortunately has been the selling line for most ANC leaders - the mantra about living for the party and being willing to submit one's self-interests to its benefit.

This has been a powerful weapon to have in one's political arsenal. Essentially whoever questioned the formula would be questioning the sayer's struggle credentials.

But those who continue to throw this aphorism around could be living in the past.

The reality is that a new political scenario has arisen since 1994.

Having been aptly described by political analysts, the situation is such that "access to political power is no longer an end in itself but a means to accessing economic influence or economic power to advance narrow economic interests".

Hence it is not easy for people to declare if they are running for office.

For example, Mbeki making himself available for a third term could be seen in the above context.

What Mbeki should do as a leader is to come out and declare if he is standing or not. If he is standing he should then explain why he thinks it is important for him to run for a third term as ANC president.

The same applies to all other contenders for the position. They should be bold enough to tell the public why they think they should lead the party that runs the political lives of South Africa's 45 million citizens.

This way the public will do what Mbeki has previously called for - engage in the ANC succession debate.

And please, Mr President, the line about doing what the party asks you to do does not wash any more.

Just ask ANC national executive committee member Saki Macozoma.

When asked by Maverick in a recent interview if he wanted to run the country, Macozoma said "no".

"And if a large constituency, say a number of ANC branches, begged and pleaded?" asked Maverick.

"That is just an excuse. You do not have to do something because people ask you to. If you don't want to do it, then you don't do it," Macozoma said.