Do we still have leaders who can save the ANC

Do we still have leaders who can save the ANC

Ruling party should learn from the life of Oliver Tambo about selfless leadership.

We are delivering an Oliver Reginald Tambo memorial lecture at a time when our movement is going through a very difficult period.

To many of us, perhaps because of our age and laziness to read and follow our history, this appears to be the first or the worst crisis that ever confronted our movement.

But it is neither the first nor the last. The [1969] Morogoro consultative conference dealt with one such crisis. The [1985] Kabwe consultative conference with another.

Tambo’s life gives us lessons on the role of leadership when the organisation is facing a crisis. This is not merely because he was unwavering in leading for more than 30 years, through highs and lows during its exile. He was just head and shoulders above all others.

He brought into the movement exceptional personal attributes, and also learnt from the collective experience of the struggle.

These experiences remain a footprint on the nature and character of our movement; its conduct in executing the liberation struggle, and the envisaged quality of life for those enjoined for a free, united, nonracial, nonsexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa.

Celebrating his life is not about eulogising. It is our responsibility to learn and emulate the lodestar he was in the pursuance of the national democratic revolution, in our present conjuncture of struggle. We memorialise only those who represent the best and the highest qualities among us, in order to elicit such attributes in ourselves.

Tambo was an embodiment of understanding the organisation and its cadre, as articulated by the Communist Party of China, in “the three represents”:

  • To represent the interests and aspirations of the vast majority of the people;
  • To represent the most scientific development; and
  • To represent the most advanced and most productive sections of society.

The three represents are articulated clearly in the four pillars of our revolution. As a governing party, it is critical that we attract the best brains into the ANC and the democratic state. The questions, though, that we must answer at all levels of the organisation are:

  • What kind of leadership are we? Are personal interests, as opposed to organisational interests, the basis? Can we elevate ourselves above the factions, or are we subservient to them?
  • What kind of an organisation have we become? Are we asking ourselves what the people mean when they say the ANC is no longer the one they used to know, or do we respond in outrage?
  • Are we still pursuing the national democratic revolution or shifting towards neoliberalism, deliberately or by accident? Are we succumbing to the pressure reflecting the global balance of forces?

We must take time to analyse individual leaders and check the quality thereof. The analysis has to include leaders’ conduct, understanding and adherence to the strategy and policy.

If there is one quality in Moses Kotane which I would single out before all the others, it was that he was incorruptible … not only in his politics, but also in his personal life
This is stated by Le Duan, the former general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, addressing himself to the collective method of work and individual responsibility: “The role of those who head an organisation, the leaders, is very great and has a decisive character. That is why they must meet high requirements. The leader must embody loyalty and dedication in the implementation of the line and policies of the party and the state and must have the necessary capabilities and determination to bring these lines and policies into effect.

“They must have rich experience, foresight and aliveness to the new, a creative, imaginative mind to combine collective leadership with ability to make clear-sighted decisions on the basis of a deep knowledge of the tasks assigned and a firm grip of the situation … show a high sense of responsibility, great determination and principled attitude … must take account and really respect the opinion of others, and calmly listen to the suggestions of the masses even if they do not agree with them.”

Comrade Oliver Tambo distinguished himself as principled and ethical. He proved this beyond any doubt when he rejected the allegation by former ANC president Dr AB Xuma that his would-be successor, Dr James Moroka, was a spy.

Despite his closeness to Dr Xuma, Comrade Tambo took a strong line that “this dirty piece of paper must be removed from the files of the ANC”.

Bishop [Trevor] Huddleston said: “It has not come out nearly sufficiently … how much … the ethical and moral mattered to [Tambo]; far more than any philosophy.”

The description given [of] late SACP leader Moses Kotane by Yusuf Dadoo applies fully to Comrade Tambo: “If there is one quality in Moses Kotane which I would single out before all the others, it was that he was incorruptible … not only in his politics, but also in his personal life. Moses Kotane was a man you knew … would never let you down, never do something behind your back, never deceive you. You always knew where you were with Moses Kotane. Sometimes his words were harsh and hurtful, but they were never dishonest.”

This description was applicable to many of our leaders, our predecessors. The question is: is it applicable to us today, at all levels of the organisation?

Tambo always gave constructive responses to criticism, and had the ability to seek solutions through consultation. The Morogoro consultative conference was preceded by various consultative meetings.

Tambo did not accede to suggestions that [Chris] Hani and his fellow signatories to the memorandum be [ court-martialled]. He also took a dim view of what he considered ill-advised criticism of some ailing leaders, such as Moses Kotane.

He seized the moment of criticism of the leadership to help focus the ANC on being a better vehicle to pursue the struggle for liberation, with maximum unity among its allied formations. Hence Morogoro was a turning point after the ANC’s first decade in exile.

It is this experience that must guide the ANC in dealing with problems today. The ease with which we call for expulsion or purging of those who seem to be disagreeing with us, and the diversity of ideas within the organisation [being] seen as divisions indicate that we are not keen to learn from history and experience.

Fire the president, fire the top six, the NEC must resign, Jackson [Mthembu] must be purged, and many others, reflect an organisation that is not constructive in responding to criticism.

The Kabwe consultative conference was another moment to prove the leadership qualities of OR Tambo. It met in the aftermath of the Gaborone bombings by the apartheid regime, repression in the country, serious ANC divisions that saw mutinies in the camps, and the impatience of trained guerrillas who wanted to be deployed in the country, and factions.

Comrade OR inspired everybody : “This is not an emergency conference to overcome a crisis within our movement. We are not confronted by any crisis. We are meeting in a situation in which we have to determine how to use our advances at home and abroad to move further forward and achieve victory. The challenges we face are ones that arise out of success .”

The local government elections triggered panic that is exposing us to the danger of self-destruction. This includes the drive to fire as many councillors as possible, take the risk of by-elections and further weaken the ANC.

It is strange that our movement is fast replacing the need to corrode the social base of the enemy and broaden the base of the movement with infighting and self-destruction. This must stop and leadership must take charge in changing it.

Mantashe is ANC secretary-general. This is an edited extract of his OR Tambo memorial lecture delivered in Delft on Thursday.

Article Sourced from Sunday Times