Colonial excuses don’t cut it anymore

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This being an elective conference year for the ANC, it is apt to reflect on the quality of leadership, or lack of it, at the helm of South Africa’s governing party.

This is a matter of huge national and public interest because the ANC is in charge of our affairs. Its policies, decisions, successes and failures impact directly on our lives for better or worse.

It is due to the high station the ANC holds in our public life, for example, that Julius Malema, in spite of not holding any public office either as an elected member of Parliament or a bureaucrat, has transfixed the public mind.

Come to think of it, the man has never worked in a normal job in his life.

But he is taken seriously by virtue of being a member of the ruling party, the thinking being that his dangerous quick-fixes would eventually find life and expression in the policies of the government.

No disrespect to his considerable political abilities, but Malema’s rants would long have been dismissed as the raving of a loony were he merely a member of an opposition party. Without the ANC’s protective shield, he is a nobody.

Again for better or worse, our reality is that the ANC is the fount of state power in our republic.

That being the case, its officials have a responsibility to manage the affairs of state and behave in a manner that advances the common good and the national interest.

The very fate of the country depends on it.

It also follows that members of the party – at least the delegates who elect its top officials – owe it to the country to endorse men and women of integrity, competence, ability, talent and vision among other key virtues.

Selfless leaders are crucial, as the history of postcolonial Africa would attest.

Consider this: this continent was colonised by European powers, but so were large parts of Asia and Latin America. But here is the difference.

The former Asian colonies – Singapore to cite one example – without the blessings of mineral deposits, have sped ahead in economic development. Their citizens enjoy some of the best standards of living in the world.

Africa, on the other hand, blessed with untold riches in natural resources, is still wallowing in poverty and disease.

The difference is the political leadership. Bad politicians have been the bane of our lives and shoulder a large part of the blame for the sorry state of the continent.

The point is, good leaders do make a difference.

To borrow from what some in the ANC have said, only the best among its membership should be worthy of elevation to the top table. Not the popular crowd-pleaser or the silver-tongued demagogue. But people of substance, the very best.

The nadir of the recent past notwithstanding, the ANC has produced leaders worthy of leadership. John Dube, Pixley ka Izaka Seme, Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela come to mind.

But lately, it’s been difficult to imagine who among its top officials would deserve the honour of being the president of the republic.

Cyril Ramaphosa emerged briefly from his self-imposed vow of silence last weekend to show what might have been or could be.

Delivering the Malema judgment, the millionaire businessman again reminded us why he was once thought of highly as a worthy successor to Mandela.

Ramaphosa was gravitas personified, commanding respect and inspiring confidence.

The kind of man who appears competent to bat for us in tough trade negotiations with wily foreign powers hustling for bargain prices for our minerals.

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This is my last column.

A big thank you to my readers, especially those who have often taken the trouble to write in and comment on my opinions.

Your feedback – encouraging and disapproving alike – has been a source of inspiration and support, keeping me going over the past three-and-a- half years. It’s been a privilege and an honour to serve you.

Now it’s off to old pastures, The Mercury, where I learnt my craft as a young reporter all those 21 years ago.

Thank you for reading the Tribune.

Goodbye and good luck to you all.

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