Taking the lead in SA’s time of crisis

Our devastating leadership vacuum requires others to step into the breach.

Paralysis in the ANC and the government over the scandals engulfing President Jacob Zuma, his refusal to step down willingly, his attempts to anoint a successor of his own making, and the pushback by opponents mean South Africa will remain rudderless until at least the 2019 national elections.

Given the devastating leadership vacuum in the ANC and the government, who can provide alternative direction when the ANC is in power but unable to govern effectively, and is unlikely to do so unless it gets new leadership as quickly as possible?

Conventionally, it’s difficult to imagine that the country’s leadership could come from outside a dominant leadership of the governing party and president – because they control the levers of power, from where societal leadership is exercised.

Nevertheless, alternative leadership can come from multiple sources within and outside the ANC, democratic institutions and civil society.

Within the ANC and the government, individual leaders could provide alternative public leadership.

Pravin Gordhan, as Finance Minister, is already providing alternative leadership as the de facto leader of the ANC – or at least of the true values of the party.

Gordhan may not be perfect, but part of the reasons why he is being assailed by allies of the president is that the finance minister provides a moral authority which the president should have provided, and which is not being provided by any other ANC leaders.

ANC veterans, by publicly calling on the president and the current leadership to act in the interest of South Africa and not in their own self-interest, are also providing alternative leadership.

However, the ANC veterans do not hold any institutional power within the ANC or the government.

The ANC veterans can only rely on moral power which, increasingly and unfortunately in the current ANC, no longer has currency.

What is glaringly missing is alternative leadership from any of the top six leaders of the ANC. Provincial ANC branches could collectively provide alternative leadership in this crisis.

The Gauteng ANC provincial branch could, but it is not positioning itself clearly, assertively and publicly as the alternative leadership of the ANC and president in this current crisis.

The ANC lost key metropolitan councils in the  3 August 2016, local government elections. This means there are not many ANC mayors of powerful metropoles that can provide stand-out alternative national leadership. Where else in society can alternative leadership come from?

In a national leadership vacuum, Parliament is the obvious source of alternative leadership. The ANC parliamentary caucus, consisting of some of the party’s most senior cadres, have disappointingly not stepped up.

The Speaker of the National Assembly, in our constitutional democratic system, is potentially an important alternative leadership figure in a national crisis. Sadly, current Speaker Baleka Mbete has not turned the power of that office into an alternative national leadership office.

The ANC parliamentary caucus and the position of the chief whip are other offices which could provide alternative national leadership to the party and the government.

Beyond ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu’s call for Zuma and the entire ANC national executive committee to resign, followed by the call from Mathole Motshekga, chairperson of the parliamentary portfolio committee on justice and correctional services, for Zuma to “do the honourable thing”, the ANC parliamentary caucus has been stunningly subdued.

Individual ANC MPs have also gone missing. In the Nkandla scandal, where Zuma used public money to refurbish his private homestead, the Constitutional Court reprimanded Parliament for not holding the president and executive accountable.

Opposition parties and leaders in Parliament could also provide alternative national leadership by holding the president and executive accountable, either through speaking out publicly or through the courts to challenge wrong policies, decisions and behaviours.

In fact, opposition parties such as the DA and the EFF have, in this parliamentary term, changed the game by using the parliamentary process and the courts to hold the president and the executive to account.

Going forward, opposition parties must focus on issue-based coalitions in Parliament and in local government to unlock public service delivery, hold the executive to account and improve the lives of ordinary South Africans.

The leader of the official opposition, Mmusi Maimane, however, has not been able to position himself yet as the alternative national leader, and the DA as the alternative government.

Both Maimane and the DA have done a steady job in criticising the president’s behaviour and poor government policies and decisions.

This is the moment for Maimane to present himself as the alternative president of the country by providing direction on all the key national issues and for the DA to position itself as the alternative government.

In the metros, the DA is in control now – the party can show it’s the alternative government by delivering public services efficiently, where the previous ANC administrations failed to.

Democratic institutions, and oversight bodies and agencies could also provide alternative leadership. Former public protector Thuli Madonsela played her constitutional role so efficiently that she, in reality became the alternative president of the country, around whom people of all races, classes and ideologies rallied.

Oversight organisations such as the Human Rights Commission and Gender Equality Commission have fallen disappointingly silent in this current national crisis.

The judiciary and individual judges can also provide alternative leadership to society.

Such has been the poor leadership in the country that the courts have become increasingly the arbiter on public policies, decisions and behaviours.

Some of these should have been resolved through the political pro-cesses. However, these lack credibility, because they have been captured by corrupt elements.

The Constitutional Court, together with the Public Protector, has become the most effective democratic institution in the country.

Through its courageous judgements, ConCourt has reinforced public confidence in it and provided national direction on the thorniest issues.

Government departments and entities, whether the National Treasury or state-owned enterprises (SOEs), should also play leadership roles. However, except for the National Treasury, officials in other government departments and SOEs have been silent.

Civil society groups should also play a stronger role in managing social, political and economic conflicts.

 *This article was published in Sunday Independent. To view the article on their website click here. 

William Gumede is Associate Professor, School of Governance at the University of the Witwatersrand. He is Executive Chairperson of Democracy Works Foundation and former Deputy Editor of The Sowetan newspaper.

During the anti-apartheid struggle, Gumede held several leadership positions in South African student, civics and trade union movements. He was a political violence mediator and area coordinator for the National Peace Committee during the multiparty negotiations for a democratic South Africa and was seconded to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He is the author of several number 1 bestsellers. His more recent books include: Restless Nation: Making Sense of Troubled Times (Tafelberg); and South Africa in BRICS – Salvation or Ruination (Tafelberg).

To read publications by William Gumede on our website please click here.

Comments are closed.