SA needs decisive leadership way beyond mere removal of Zuma

Speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete and National Council of Provinces chair Thandi Modise announce the postponement on Tuesday of the State of the Nation Address. /ESA ALEXANDER
Speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete and National Council of Provinces chair Thandi Modise announce the postponement on Tuesday of the State of the Nation Address. /ESA ALEXANDER

There is a frenzy to make sense of the past few days in South Africa's political life and particularly in the ANC. Unfortunately there has been very little concrete to go on.

What is clear is that the ANC is deluged by crises. And it is also apparent that the party's leadership is floundering to keep the ship afloat.

First the party is facing a crisis of legitimacy. Second it is facing a crisis of incoherence. Third it is facing a crisis of indecision. And this can be summed up as a crisis of leadership.

On Tuesday, Speaker of National Assembly Baleka Mbete announced the postponement of the State of the Nation Address (Sona). She cited concerns over the current political environment.

This about-turn is telling, given that Mbete had rejected opposition requests to postpone the Sona pending the vote of no confidence debate scheduled for later this month.

Although her announcement made no reference to opposition representations, it is evident that she could not ignore their calls. Allowing the Sona to continue with disruptions would be more damaging to the ANC now than on previous occasions.

The ANC and the country would lose any of the goodwill and confidence that the election of Cyril Ramaphosa generated.

A volatile Sona would bury any remaining legitimacy that parliament's presiding officers have. It would also close down any space for constructive communication and cooperation between the ANC and opposition in parliament.

The ANC in parliament and Mbete, in particular, would lose all credibility and any perception of being able to act independently of the influence of the presidency.

This is owing to Mbete's previous actions and decisions in relation to attempts to exercise oversight over the president.

Mbete had to reach out to Zuma to persuade him over the postponement. And to save face, both had to present the picture that the decision was taken based on their own initiative rather than because of pressure from the opposition.

Postponing was the right thing to do. Nevertheless the postponement in and of itself will not resolve the ANC's crisis of legitimacy.

Mbete has bought the ANC time. It's up to the top six, led by Ramaphosa and the national executive committee (NEC) to take decisive action.

So far, the so called 'leadership transition' from Ramaphosa to Zuma has not been handled well and has brought the crisis of incoherence in the ANC to the fore.

It would not be to misconstrue the utterances of the ANC if the transition is taken to mean the transfer of power from Zuma to Ramaphosa, not only in the context of the ANC, the party, but the ANC as the government.

Despite the unity rhetoric, the party has sent mixed messages about the role and future of Zuma as head of state.

Ramaphosa's victory at the ANC conference created the expectation that Zuma's stay would be cut short, given that he is facing numerous allegations of corruption and the possibility of criminal charges.

Although the NEC has opted not to take a clear decision on instructing Zuma to resign it mandated the top six to negotiate his early exit. In late January the National Working Committee (NWC) also instructed the top six to discuss options with Zuma. This is the crisis of indecision.

For all intents and purposes, Zuma has already been recalled, except unlike Mbeki, he has been digging in his heels.

The top six, the NWC and the NEC have only come short of saying so because the party is riddled with divisions that have led to incoherence.

Narrow interests of holding on to power for self-preservation have clashed with the interests of saving the party from self-destruction and defending the national interest.

That Ramaphosa may have finally convinced Zuma to leave doesn't make his job any easier. The ANC needs decisive leadership. So does SA Inc.