While Mombela Stadium in Mpumalanga was filled at the ANCs 102 anniversary and manifesto rally on Saturday, the party faces many challenges. Picture: Dumisane Sibeko

Abe Mokoena says 20 years into democracy, we need leaders who can revive the nation’s confidence, and the ANC needs to take a hard look at itself ahead of the election.

Polokwane - The year 2013 is now behind us. And it is crystal clear that, when historians come to settle accounts, 2013 will surely be recorded as one of the most politically interesting, funny and saddest in the history of our constitutional democracy.

Most of us will always easily flash back and see it as the year that was full of great and engrossing political dramas.

It was the year in which we witnessed the folly of flawed heroes. We witnessed decisions and actions that left the nation rubbing its hands with utter cynicism and total resignation. It is the year in which our democracy absorbed vicious Mike Tyson-like blows to the vital organs. It is the year that ended with fire, thunder and tears.

And this did not come as a surprise to those who listened to the speech delivered by the then young and charismatic American president, JF Kennedy, in Dublin on June 28, 1963, when he said: “Democracy is a difficult type of government. It requires the highest qualities of self-discipline, restraint, a willingness to make commitments and sacrifices for the general interest.”

Now the dust has hardly settled and the political cauldron of 2014 is already boiling.

And surely, this is one year which is significant to us in so many ways.

It signals 20 years since our country said hello to constitutional democracy.

It is a year in which we will see the holding of the fifth instalment of our national general elections since 1994.

That is why, this past weekend, the ANC unveiled its Manifesto for the coming five years at Mbombela Stadium.

As the Mpumalanga event was taking place, the EFF commander-in-chief, Julius Malema, was handing over a house to a destitute family 300m from the president’s Nkandla compound.

What a sensational sense of dramatic irony! And from now on, we can expect to witness an electrifying election campaign contest between the ANC and the EFF.

This is where we will see the truth behind the saying that “a politician should have the skin of an elephant”.

There is no doubt that the ANC will emerge victorious in the coming elections, although with a reduced margin as a result of the many challenges they are facing, such as the disarray in its Youth League and the heated squabbles that characterise the Tripartite Alliance. We will also see President Jacob Zuma entering his last term as President of the Republic. National parliament and Provincial legislatures will also be graced by new and old faces.

I hope that the obligations of citizenship will impel all parliamentarians to be more assertive in limiting the power of the executive and bringing them to account.

Parliament should also do more to defend the rights and opinions of the public against the same power of the Executive who should, as a matter of principle, set a shining example to everyone.

It should exert more effort in debating and representing the views of the public and protect them against any unrestrained or bullying tendency from the Executive.

Parliamentarians should make sure that policy represents the views of the public rather than the interests of the political class.

Yes, Parliament should know that they are the public’s last hope as the representative voice of the people.

And as political parties finalise the compilation of lists of those who will be going to Parliament, it should be noted that the moral values, leadership and intellectual quality of such people is crucial for our democracy.

We need to be represented by people who can come to exemplify a special conception of political heroism in which intellectual brilliance and leadership genius are fused with human values dedicated to the unwavering pursuit of our nation’s progress.

We need leaders who can revive the nation’s confidence, leaders whose personalities exude vitality, competence and honesty and who can make South Africa believe in itself again.

We need heroes and giants who aspire to be among the century’s giants. We need leaders who will soldier on for the nation in a way that their achievements will prove to all and sundry that there is no barrier to the human spirit.

Yes, we need leaders who will give meaning and dignity to the public’s lives.

We need leaders who have a vision to leave an indelible mark on the universe. We need valiant heroes and heroines who can turn a nation’s potential nightmare into a realistic dream. We need leaders with the disarming humility and optimism of Anne Frank, the Jewish girl who used her diary to turn hell into literature and who ultimately became the totemic symbol of the Holocaust. As the persecution of the Jews intensified, in her hiding place she wrote: “I hear the ever approaching thunder which will destroy us too, I can feel the suffering of millions and yet, if I look into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”

When she wrote of her desire she said: “I want to be useful or give pleasure to people around me who yet don’t really know me.I want to go on living even after my death.”

History has been very vocal about how, when leaders betray their mandate, they endanger the whole nation. Problems emerge, some resulting in the paralysis of the economy. Zimbabwe and Zaire are clear examples. We will recall that, by mid-1992, because of poor leadership, Zaire experienced the total disintegration of its formal economy as inflation skyrocketed at several thousand percent and the value of the country’s currency became worthless: one million zaires was worth less than one US dollar.

In the midst of this reality, people became millionaires and even billionaires without being rich, as their money could not buy much. For example, a top university professor who earned 100 million zaires struggled to survive. This, because a sack of rice cost 30 million zaires; a chicken cost 4 million zaires; a loaf of bread cost 1 million zaires; a beer cost 5 million zaires.

And buying an air ticket took several hours because great stacks of notes had to be counted out and piled up, making tall walls of money on people’s desks.

And when companies had to pay their employees, they had to transport the money in trucks, giving each worker a large bag of money to carry home. Bank vaults were empty and, as such, it was difficult for people to withdraw any money.

Hunger starred them in the face and kwashiorkor and other forms of malnutrition became common. As that happened, vultures took pole positions preparing themselves for daily feasts.

It is in this context that parliamentarians should defend their brands by doing their jobs and being honest to the nation. They should believe in the nobility of their work as the patriotic expression of the best that lies within them, and as their mandate to ease the burden on the shoulders of humanity.

The honesty and integrity with which they operate and the beauty that will result from a dedication to truth is what will make life truly meaningful to all South Africans.

* Abe Mokoena is an independent commentator based in Polokwane.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers

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