There’s no parallel between principled Tambo and Zuma

Dr Sydney Mufamadi, Director: School of Leadership, College of Business and Economics, University of Johannesburg / Former cabinet minister and a leading voice in the ANC veterans movement.

Political observers at the ANC’s fifth policy conference, currently under way at Nasrec near Johannesburg, were shocked by the discordant note between President Jacob Zuma’s prepared text and the comments he made as he went along.
In the former, he extols the virtues of South Africa’s hard-won democracy. In the latter, he shows his irritation with our “excessive democracy”.
And I cannot but wonder why he thought it wise to conclude his speech by inviting comparison between his leadership qualities and those of the late Oliver Reginald Tambo.
For those of us who worked with him, Tambo will always be remembered with affection and admiration. He stands out as a synthesis of talent, honesty and hard work. Tambo was a man of remarkable prudence.
In his report to the 48th conference of the ANC – the first to be held after the unbanning of the organisation – Tambo said: “Our movement grew both in stature and effectiveness under difficult conditions of illegality. Even as we made these impressive gains, it is fair to say that on some issues and in some instances we could have put up a better performance than we actually did.
“It was with the view of resolving some of our subjective weaknesses that we convened our second national consultative conference in Kabwe, Zambia, in 1985.”
At this conference, he said: “The regime and the South African press sought to create divisions amongst us by resorting to all sorts of schemes including attempts to draw a wedge between the youth and the older generation within the ANC.”
But, much to the dismay of its adversaries, the ANC emerged from the Kabwe conference a “united and strengthened organisation”.
Such an outcome was testimony to OR’s own political skill and aptitude in managing internal diversity. As a result, our people experienced the ANC as a coherent presence in their lives.
A top six that exists in two factions of equal size is a historical aberration, at least in the political lifetime of those who had first-hand experience of working under the leadership of Tambo.
Somebody who leads such a fractious movement cannot afford to fiddle while “Rome is burning”.
There is no need to use the policy conference as a platform to ensnare delegates with a “fortress” model of unity, which protects errant members from the scrutiny of society.
Our main ethical imperative is to focus the movement’s attention on its own endemic problems and shortcomings. Those cadres who span a wide spectrum of histories (Zuma included) have a duty to help younger comrades to assimilate the profound lessons of their experience.
We need to foster inter-generational conversation as a way of combating the increasing permeability of our branches to nefarious interests.
The ongoing e-mail exposures give us a glimpse of the extent of the problem we face in this regard. We must therefore expect that those who call for a thoroughgoing process of introspection will face a spirited beat-back offensive.
How else can we explain the act of attributing to ANC veterans and stalwarts all manner of vile intentions? Such desperation leads our otherwise esteemed leaders into the temptation of deploying dishonesty as a currency of discursive choice.
Zuma cannot conceivably believe that the veterans and stalwarts of the ANC have no respect for the processes that led to his election as president of the ANC. Why does he want conference delegates to believe such twaddle?
The secretary-general’s diagnostic report to the policy conference was alive to the fact that many of our branches are a dead letter. This is just one of the elements of the dynamic of regression that has set in over a long period.
A maladroit handling of this dynamic can only induce long-term dysfunction. The risk of the ANC facing ruin at its own hand was accentuated by the president when he made remarks that could not have sat well with those who went to the policy conference nursing the hope that the ANC would come out of it as a united and strengthened organisation. To these, he clearly did not set the right tone.
I also could not reconcile his morbid fascination with disunity with the ANC I have come to know over many years.
Zuma’s tenure will go down as a period of unprecedented regression in the otherwise happy aftermath of the demise of apartheid. It is during his tenure that, at 54%, the ANC polled the lowest vote since the beginning of the new dispensation.
Since 2009, the ANC has consistently experienced a decline in electoral support. This presents serious questions for the leadership and members of the ANC to ponder.
Fewer people remain in political thrall to a movement that led the struggle for progressive change in South Africa. Many agonise at the sight of so many of our cadres becoming habitués of an infamous den that incubates people to become adept at dishonouring the cause of ethical governance.
In his report, the secretary-general appealed to those who are implicated in the e-mail disclosures to re-embrace our movement’s principles and values. He asked them to own up and repent. I hope they will take his wise counsel to heart.
As his report to the 48th national conference of the ANC showed, Oliver Tambo was a consensus builder. He promoted wide-ranging discussions within the ANC; between the ANC and the mass democratic movement; and between the ANC and the Organisation of African Unity and in particular the frontline states. A leader of remarkable prudence, he would eternally fit the profile of a guest of honour at every congress of Cosatu or the SACP.
Delegates at the fifth policy conference of the ANC at Nasrec must know that South Africa cannot be expected to put its destiny in the hands of a leader who is taking this long to experience a moment of epiphany about the true feelings of our people.
The delegates must deploy their collective agency towards the goal of reconnecting the ANC to the people.
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