/ 3 November 2017

ANC’s wishy-washy  ‘race’  limps on

'Conference starts late and ends late under normal circumstances. I anticipate a small war over credentials
'Conference starts late and ends late under normal circumstances. I anticipate a small war over credentials

Lawd have mercy on us! Please can the ANC leadership race be over already? Not because it is so amazeballs that our bodies cannot handle the excitement of it all, but rather because it is all so bloody dull that we might slip into collective coma listening to these boring, unoriginal and indecisive buffets of verbal waffling from all the candidates who think they are presidential material.

Speaking of collective stuff, the first and central reason why the main candidates are coming across as dull as dishwater is precisely because of deference to the ANC’s historic collectivism.

Ask Dr Zweli Mkhize what he thinks of President Jacob Zuma and he will tell you to ask the ANC national executive committee. Ask him whether he could work with any other candidates if he were to lose the battle for the top spot and he tells you to ask “the party” what he should do.

Ask Lindiwe Sisulu whether she believes Fezekile “Khwezi” Kuzwayo was raped by Zuma and Sisulu tells you that she “believes that [Fezekile] believes” that she — Fezekile — was raped. Not even Monty Python could have been scripted this comically.

This, in turn, was followed by a press statement showing deference to the law and implying falsely that we cannot have views about women’s rape claims that differ from what the courts have determined legal truth to be.

In other words, these candidates fetishise collectivism. They hide behind the collectivist veil. They refuse to think for themselves. They refuse to start answers with unambiguous sentences such as: “I personally believe that President Zuma is/is not a good leader. Here are my reasons and I speak for myself and not the organisation.”

They refuse to role-model modernity. They are stuck in a political past and clearly do not have the courage to break with the conservative political culture of the ANC — one that is rooted in a history that is now anachronistic.

That refusal to own and show off one’s individuality is a mistake. The ANC is facing such a serious existential crisis that it cannot be business as usual. It is in desperate need of a leader who can speak plainly, with conviction, and not be afraid of first-person speech that tells us very precisely what they think and believe.

I suspect a major part of the difficulty is that these candidates are too steeped in ANC praxis.

They do not know any other ways of being. Besides Sisulu and Mkhize, the others have not yet even allowed themselves to agree to dynamic and unscripted public engagements about what they stand for.

I cannot tell you what Cyril Ramaphosa’s visions for the ANC and the country are.

I cannot tell you what Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s visions for the ANC and the country are.

When they do speak at all, they do so in platitudes that are about as clear as mud. So even if they were to grant sit-down interviews, you would likely slip into a coma while listening to the habitual references to the mythical ANC collective.

After all, Sisulu and Mkhize have granted several interviews to various media platforms and they have yet to outline and detail clearly identifiable visions for their party and our country. In fact, some of Mkhize’s own supporters fell asleep while listening to him at a 702 townhall event hosted by Karima Brown. You cannot blame them, because Mkhize is a more effective sleeping pill than any he himself could prescribe as a doctor.

So the problem isn’t just the silence of most candidates. The real issue is a poverty of big ideas. They all sound stale on the odd occasions when they do field questions about their candidacy.

None of them has as yet sketched a vision that ANC supporters, and voting delegates and branches more specifically, can be excited by.

Mkhize, for example, is campaigning on a ticket of unity. Yet he does not even seem to grasp some fairly trite critiques of the inherent dangers of unity. How do you unite with gangsters and thieves? How do you unite with comrades who piss on the Constitution?

Mkhize, like a really bad motivational speaker, thinks the word “unity” is self-justifying as a campaign slogan. It is not.

Unity only makes sense when you have some critical overlapping agreement about minimal ethical and constitutional values with your opponents. That is not the case in the present. Too many factions are beyond the pale. So, Mkhize’s unity talk is vacuous and dangerously short-sighted. Unity with gangsters will harm our democracy.

Sisulu has an equally cheesy refrain about her candidacy being “a must” — a boisterous phrase that simply reeks of entitlement, rather than expressing a humble plea to be given the privilege to lead the ANC and the country.

What they lack are bold visions that address the rotten state of the state, our broken economy, the leadership crisis in the ANC and the deep divisions in our structurally unjust society.

But if we set aside these weaknesses, the central problem is as follows: there is not one presidential candidate in the ANC who is sufficiently modern in their political orientation. They are all as tired as the anachronistic ANC itself.