Leadership Integrity should always be a central pillar of the revolution

ANC member Sihle Zikalala. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)

ANC member Sihle Zikalala. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Oct 20, 2022



Johannesburg - The African National Congress (ANC) earned itself the distinction of being a liberation movement that fights for the total liberation of all South Africans.

In the course of persecuting the struggle, through the conduct, sacrifice and dedication of its cadres, it earned the position of being a leader of the society, especially the oppressed; namely Africans in particular and blacks in general as well as progressive white democrats.

The ANC never earned the status of being a liberation movement by mere proclamation but through the adaption from old methods of the struggle and the adoption of the 1949 Programme of Action as propelled by the then ANCYL, which brought about mass mobilisation and later the adoption of the armed struggle.

It was also the M-Plan prepared mainly by Nelson Mandela which helped the ANC adapt to underground work as the apartheid state machinery increasing became repressive and brutal.

The status of being the leader of the society was never self-appropriated but was a resultant outcome of concerted efforts of the implementation of four (4) pillars of the struggle as adopted by the 1969 Morogoro Conference – especially the pillar of underground leadership resulting in the formation of COSAS in 1979, the UDF in 1983, COSATU in 1985 and SAYC in 1988 which all combined produced a coherent leadership to the rolling mass actions of the late 1980s which rendered South Africa ungovernable and the apartheid system unworkable as per the command of O R Tambo during his delivery of the ANC’s January 8th Statement in 1985 and his closing address at the June 1985 Kabwe ANC National Consultative Conference in Zambia.

Throughout its evolution, the ANC membership and organizational conduct have been a replica of the character of the collective leadership at the helm of the movement at that particular time. The two momentum and nostalgic periods highlighted above were characterized by the leadership prepared to sacrifice, including laying down their lives, for the advancement of the revolution. During the three decades of exile, under O.R. Tambo, the ANC produced and attracted into its ranks leaders and members whose conduct was beyond reproach.

This is profoundly expressed by Albie Sachs in 2017, where he postulated that: “So much depended upon the quality of the leadership being given at the time. If those at the top had been avid for the spoils of war, our struggle would soon have been turned in on itself and imploded. Everybody would have been after what he or she could get out of it. Fortunately for us, for our struggle and South Africa, people like Oliver Tambo, Chris Hani, Joe Slovo, Ruth Mompati, Yusuf Dadoo and Reggie September provided honest, principled, and dedicated leadership. Integrity, democratic functioning and respect for people’s rights shone through everything they did. Happily [ and more importantly] they proved to be in the majority, and the movement never lost its central thrust, which was the creation of a society in which the fruits of freedom would truly be made progressively available to all.”

The quality of leadership is a product of individuals who have internalized best values, good conduct, and integrity and have subjected themselves to serve people with no expectation of material gain or personal enrichment. Such leaders preserve the highest standard of leadership with logical thinking and pragmatic implementation throughout the struggle. Once the leadership integrity is lowered, then the struggle itself is seen as being valueless and anyone thinks they can lead.

We should ask ourselves whether the current state of politics in the country has lost integrity resulting in anyone thinking she or he can be a leader. We must ask ourselves whether we have not reached a point where in the movement and the society, we have replaced the desired integrity with who is less corrupt than the other. Allegations are meaningless if they affect my preferred candidates. The selective application of the rule of law, perceived or real, is undermined by perceived interference in pursuit of factional political interests.

South Africa requires firm leadership with an unselective application of the rule of law and adherence to best standards for the fulfilment of the objectives of the revolution. If the leadership integrity gets lowered, the values, ideological orientation and pragmatic execution of the struggle become of less concern and the struggle itself, becomes meaningless resulting in an illegitimate state of a polity where even criminals think they can be leaders.

The ANC 53rd National Conference resolved on the decade of a cadre, and the subsequent 54th National Conference reaffirmed the call for organisational renewal but unfortunately, the implementation has not been all-encompassing and detailed as resolved by the two conferences hence many view renewal as selective and not genuinely about restoring the best values and integrity the ANC or its icons were known for.

Leadership integrity has been the hallmark of the revolution which did not only safeguard the objectives of the struggle but made the revolutionary course to be a noble one bestowing the ANC as the leader of the society. At this historical epoch, it will again take the good men and women, young and old, urban and rural in the ANC to rise and insist on the restoration of revolutionary morality, discipline, and integrity of its members and activists so that indeed the ANC can be a beacon of hope and reclaim its position as leader of society.

In this month of birth of O.R. Tambo, let us trace and be inspired by his footsteps. In Justice Albie Sachs’ recollection of OR, he said of him in 2017: “OR needs to be remembered as more than just the international public face of the organisation, more than the mobiliser-in-chief of the exiled freedom fighters, more than the co-ordinator of the world-wide campaign to isolate apartheid and get Mandela and other political prisoners released. OR was the symbol of honesty and selfless endeavour at the head of what was becoming an increasingly great movement. He set the example of integrity. Leaders can set positive examples and negative examples. He was a positive example. We learnt that if our leaders were honest and democratic, dedicated to the struggle and willing to listen to others and acknowledge failures, then those of us lower down in the ranks would feel encouraged to conduct ourselves in the same way. But if our top leader and those around him had lacked integrity and been corrupt then soon the whole organisation down would have been engulfed by opportunism, manoeuvring and self-enrichment.”

Let us emulate Tambo’s conduct and example if we are serious that we want people to identify with the ANC as a leader of society. Let us be intolerant of people who bring the ANC into disrepute and those whose conduct is beyond reproach. This means that we should fight all corrupt practices and restore the best value of serving people. We must refuse to see the institutions of our hard-won freedom being perverted or corrupted to fight factional battles.

Institutions of government must be allowed to work transparently and objectively with no interference. The failure to preserve the integrity of law enforcement organs, on its own, defeats the integrity of justice in practice and the eyes of the public. Honesty, respect, and dedication must be the hallmark of ANC cadres in the service of societal emancipation.

Sihle Zikalala is an ANC Member and KZN MEC for COGTA