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Apr 20, 2012

SA’s leadership crisis reaches beyond the political realm

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Political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi speaks to Polity’s Brad Dubbelman about South Africa's leadership challenge
Mangaung|Africa|Nedbank|Africa|South Africa|Jacob Zuma|Julius Malema|Richard Mdluli
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mangaung-city|africa-company|nedbank|africa|south-africa|jacob-zuma|julius-malema|richard-mdluli
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How is the decision to suspend African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) president Julius Malema, on top of the decision to expel him, going to impact on internal party unity and cohesion in the periods leading up to the June policy conference and the December national conference?

Is the manner in which the ANC is responding to the Malema challenge going to divide the ruling party more than it does the ANCYL, or is the end nigh for Malema and other leaders of the Youth League? Anyone who has definitive answers to these questions is either a liar or lacks a proper understanding of the fluidity and, therefore, the complexity of the balance of forces, support and scandals in the ruling party. What we must bear in mind is that the ANC leadership is responding to a range of challenges that are not limited to the Youth League and Malema challenge. The ANC is faced with the task of managing a range of negative perceptions about its capacity to lead.

First, there are perceptions that the Malema matter has caused divisions in the party and that these divisions extend to the top leadership structures of the party. Attached to this is the perception that some leaders of the party are behind Malema and, therefore, have aligned themselves with forces within the ANC and the ruling alliance that want to unseat President Jacob Zuma at the Mangaung conference of the ANC.

Second, the decision by the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) that the Democratic Alliance does have locus standi in relation to whether the April 2009 decision of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to withdraw charges of corruption against Zuma can be reviewed. In short, we cannot rule out the possibility that, if Zuma is re-elected in Mangaung, at some point after his re-election, the country might face a constitutional crisis if the Constitutional Court finds that the NPA deision was indeed unlawful.

Third, suspicions that some decisions, such as the decision to reinstate police intelligence chief Richard Mdluli, are part of the President’s strategy of self- preservation.

Fourth, some are of the view that the ANC is becoming a threat to our constitutional democracy. The concern arises from decisions by the party and government to review the judgments of the Constitutional Court and the SCA. The suspicion is that the ANC seeks to castrate the judiciary.

Further, there is a growing chorus of voices in civil society and big business that are critical of what is seen as a lack of leadership in the ANC and government.

In fact, in an unusual move, Reuel Khoza, in his capacity as Nedbank group chair- person, wrote at the end of March: “South Africa is widely recognised for its liberal and enlightened Constitution, yet we observe the emergence of a strange breed of leaders who are determined to undermine the rule of law and override the Constitution.” Before I continue, two questions arise: Are the words ‘liberal’ and ‘enlightened’ not value laden? When did this ‘strange breed of leaders’ emerge? In other words, is Khoza not arguing from a particular ideological and political vantage point, and are his views broadly representative of business sentiment on national issues and lack of leadership?

Unfortunately, the ANC, in its response, betrayed a lack of both thought and leader- ship. The secretary-general of the ruling party, Gwede Mantashe, argued: “Reuel Khoza must sell Nedbank and not venture into something he doen’t know.” In a radio interview, Mantashe insisted that Khoza was blaming his lack of success as a business leader on others.

Lamentations of lack of leadership by business leaders tend to invoke mixed feelings in me. I have no doubt that South Africa is poorly led. This is not to suggest that the lack of leadership betrays a lack of leaders. All I am saying is that we seem to have serious talent when it comes to choosing the wrong people as leaders. There is, as a result, a disconnect between our national strategic goals and the individuals we deploy as leaders in key areas of national life.

That said, statements about lack of leadership sometimes bemoan the absence of a particular kind of leadership, that is, leaders who fail to promote our narrow interests. The challenge of leadership in South Africa is for leaders to be able to transcend the narrow interests of key social partners, or anatagonists, such as big business and big labour. My contention, therefore, is that our crisis of leadership has a reach wider than the realm of politics.

I have deliberately said very little about what is likely to happen to the political fortunes of Zuma and Malema. The challenges of leadership, poverty, unemployment, the possibility of class and racial cleavages and that of deepening the democratic experience of citizens call for effective leadership across the board.

Edited by: Martin Zhuwakinyu
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