The ANC turned 102 years old this week. The old great trees have fallen one by one – men and woman who held the ANC's revolutionary morality. The last of these trees, and the one with the greatest impact, Nelson Mandela, fell at the end of last year. As we looked at his generation's achievements, we had no choice but to look at what was, and what is now. Naturally, when you look at what was and what is, you can't help but speculate on what will be. His death seemed to show us a reflection of what he was and what we are – and what we have now. Some looked at the reflection and did not like what they saw. The mirror reflected bright and we could not hide whatever blemishes we have as a nation.
South Africa, and especially the ANC, ought to return to what Machiavelli called "the first principle" in his book The Prince. He writes about what it takes to get a people united under its leadership, and that it sometimes takes the virtues of one man. Consequently, the demise of a nation's morals can be the result of one man. Machiavelli goes on to write that " … they become emboldened to make new attempts against the government, and to speak ill of it, and therefore it is necessary to provide against this, by bringing the government back to its first principles. Such a return to first principles in a republic is sometimes caused by the simple virtues of one man, without depending upon any law that incites him to the infliction of extreme punishments; and yet his good example has such an influence that the good men strive to imitate him, and the wicked are ashamed to lead a life so contrary to his example."
It is known that people speak ill of the leadership of the ANC and indirectly, that of the country. The only way to provide against this, according to Machiavelli, is to return to the first principle. The first principle of the ANC was justice and equality for all. That all men be served equally. In our case, there has been much ill-speaking of, in particular, our President Jacob Zuma. The question that then needs asking, as uncomfortable as it is, is whether the ill-speaking derives from the perception that he has moved away from the first principle of the ANC? That what people see is so foreign from what they know of the principles of the ANC that they feel they have no choice but to boo him – and at the memorial service of the most revered South African in our history.
Was the ill discipline of the people also a reflection of the leadership? Is this what emboldened the masses? Is it Nkandla? An ANC document known as "Through the Eye of the Needle", a document I have quoted before, which discusses the virtues and values of an ANC leader, including the challenges that the party will face externally and internally, says, "How do we prevent attempts to use the movement as a stepladder towards self-enrichment?" The perception that has been created around the leader of the ANC is that he may in fact be more interested in self-enrichment than the welfare of the masses. The more that perception spreads, the more he appears to move away from the first principle of the ANC.
The leadership should be able to embody the moral gravitas of what the ANC is and is meant to be. Of course no man is blameless and pure, but there needs to be a standard that is set for those who would lead the people. The ANC had a moral cause when it began 102 years ago. Just because victory was won did not mean that those moral principles were to be done away with. If anything, in victory, the ANC needed to be even more vigilant in guarding against the temptations that come with the comforts of an easy life and power. It is easier to be moral and just when fighting for a just cause, than when there seems to be nothing for which to fight.
"Besides, the door can be left open for corrupt individuals and even enemies of change, to exploit the movement's internal democracy to sabotage the struggle and create their own ANC. Further, those who fail in positions of authority can use all kinds of excuses to cling to power, when the time for change has come."
The paragraph I have quoted above from "Through the Eye of the Needle", is one that needs to be looked at with great introspection by the ANC, specifically during the times and needs of the party at this point in time. Has the time for change in the ANC come, especially now that we are so close to the election? The next paragraph deals with the need for the ANC to continually change for a better future. The time has come for the party to consider its future rather than a future for individuals. A party should serve the state and the state must serve the people. The state must not serve the party leadership. If there is no ANC, it cannot lead. If there is a weakened ANC, it cannot lead. If anything, the ANC needs to be protected from those who lead it and could potentially destroy it.
As the ANC's "Strategy and Tactics" document clearly states:
"Our fundamental point of departure is that South Africans have it in their power, as a people and as part of progressive humankind, to continually change the environment in which we operate in the interest of a better future."
This quote outlines the fact that the ANC is not a static organisation, that it should respond to the times and to the needs of the people to create a better future. One of the fundamental issues with the ANC is the hegemony of leadership. Old people on top. There is an over-reliance on seniority rather than capability, and people who actually embody the values of an ANC leader – its revolutionary morality. The ANC's revolutionary morality seems to have been replaced by self-interest above serving. The more the ANC serves the people well, the more people will love it. In fact, when the ANC achieves that, it would have nothing to fear because the people would feel and experience the service of the ANC.
Paragraph 37 of "Through the Eye of the Needle" does not mince words: "A leader should lead by example. He should be above reproach in his political and social conduct – as defined by our revolutionary morality. Through force of example, he should act as a role model to ANC members and non-members alike. Leading a life that reflects commitment to the strategic goals of the NDR [National Democratic Revolution] includes not only being free of corrupt practices; it also means actively fighting against corruption."
In a previous column, I explained that the title of the "Through the Eye of the Needle" document is taken from the book of Matthew 19:24 in the Bible. A rich young ruler asks Jesus what he needs to do to get to heaven. Jesus tells him what to give up. The young man leaves because he is not prepared to give these things up, then Jesus says to the crowd, "And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."
The needle Jesus spoke of is not the same as the one you think of. The eye of a needle Jesus referred to was a gate in Jerusalem, which only opened after the main gate to the city was closed at night. A camel could only pass through a smaller gate if it stooped and had had its baggage removed and had to almost crawl to enter. Therefore, a leader should be willing to let go of his baggage to be worthy of leading the ANC.
In an earlier verse, Jesus says, "Not everyone can accept this word."