The Burden of Leadership in Challenging Times

Observing the long years of exile and conditions under which the ANC pursued the liberation struggle, comrade Oliver Tambo intimated that, we did not tear ourselves apart because of lack of progress at times. We were always ready to accept our mistakes and to correct them. Above all we succeeded to foster and defend unity of the ANC and the unity of our people in general.

A hermeneutical angle to this text should inform how we interact with each other, wrestle with the challenges the ANC faces and navigate the present milieu our organisation finds itself in, with an eye to the future.

In recent times a plethora of voices have emerged in the public domain to highlight the challenges our movement is faced with. Critically, these have been voices of veterans, stalwarts and leaders of the African National Congress.

Interestingly enough some in the media and social commentators have read this as “warnings” to the movement by what they term “former leaders” of the ANC. The reference to former leaders ignores the fact of these individuals – individually and collectively – being leaders and members in the organisation, who participate in its various structures and organs. Arguably, such a reference seeks to suggest a disjuncture between them and those currently in leadership positions of our movement. The subliminal narrative being that the present stewards of our organisations have deviated from the essence and form of the movement itself.

The other response has come from some among us who have either questioned the timing of the critique or proposed that the critique is out of touch with the present reality in both the ANC and its alliance partners. An adverse consequence would be an environment where those who have views to express may be silent and, thereby, our movement lose a crucial characteristic that has guided it over time; that is, self assessment and introspection.

In engaging with this discourse one proposes that the approach we consider should be premised on some of these aspects; self introspection and ability to correct our errors, the essence and form of our movement and the environment in which it finds itself today.

The critique of the organisation by those inside it should, therefore, be viewed as an identification of the errors we have committed and continue to make in pursuit of our historic mission. It is important for each of us to accept, as a starting point, that the challenges highlighted are neither new nor divorced from what our reports to various organisational fora, speeches by leadership at different times and certain policy conclusions that emanate from resolutions and declarations of various conferences have said. Consequently, the critique emerging at the public level now is rather a reinforcement of the message of our organisation itself, about itself. The critical challenge is whether such an approach not only refers to the weaknesses but points to the measures the organisation continues to implement in order to address the situation.

Of the ten reports of the commissions at the October 2015 National General Council one is of particular importance, namely, organisation building and renewal, for the ensuing debates. Its importance derives from two aspects. First, it is one of the only two issues – Balance of Forces being the other – that were discussed separate from the sector-based issues by all the eight commissions. Second, its deliberations sought to confront the identified malaise in the organisation, which is borne testimony to by its conclusions.

Its recommendations, which were agreed to by the entire Council, reflect that the body of our organisation has reached its tether with the gate-keeping on membership, voting slates, factionalism, corruption, erroneous deployment, etc. The decision to affirm and strengthen the role, power and effectiveness of the Integrity Commission is no light matter in this regard. These outcomes are a deliberate attempt by the movement to ensure that we do not continue to tear each other apart either because we have different interests or because we have not been able to see progress in overcoming present challenges. Therefore, with this understanding, it demonstrates our readiness to accept our mistakes and to correct them.

Premised on this, the task of our leadership – in its collective, is to communicate this readiness displayed in the NGC; and to make concerted effort to implement it. It serves no purpose, other than tearing each other apart and further creating disunity in the organisation and among our people, to regurgitate the ills particularly when remedies have been proposed, coupled with the seriousness to put them into effect.

This is at the heart of what leadership is and what organisational change is about. As Ira Chaleff, a lead figure in leadership and coaching proposes, in the face of leadership flaws, too many people assume cynical perspectives, rather than do the hard work of building relationships in which they can have more positive influence. Our leadership, collectively, should transcend this cynicism and invest in making a positive influence in the change that those who are led yearn for. Its ability to think through the difficulties that bedevil the movement, as the NGC has just demonstrated, is the means through which we can realise the change in our movement – what we term organisation-building and renewal. Otherwise we would be faced with what the organisational consultant, William Bridges, articulates in the manner that, nothing undermines organizational change as the failure to think through the losses people face.

Leadership in this instance, at least in the sense of our movement, cannot be conceived of in terms of former and present. Once an individual was elected into the position of leadership they do not cease to be a leader of the organisation. What ceases to be is the fact that they are not serving in a directly elected position of leadership in that moment. This is why our movement enables ex officio participation for of its previous most senior officials in high organs as the National Executive Committee (NEC), and invites those who would have served in these leadership structures before to participate in its various national conferences. This is recognition of their continued leadership of the organisation, while not incumbents, and responsibility to guide it and to find solutions with those who are its official stewards. It is presupposed that their past experience and the fact that they were accorded with such responsibility, continues to place them at the service of others who lead today and the movement at large. It is the trust they earned for having led the organisation before and, therefore, are entrusted with it to the end. This worldview inherently gives meaning to the theory and practice of collective leadership that our movement has preoccupied itself with, which surpasses positions people hold at given periods of history.

If and when we share a common understanding of collective leadership and the burden of responsibility it bears, we would be better-placed to seek a consensus on what and how its form of expression should be in a plural and democratic country. In many ways ours, both the organisation and the country, is a democracy resonant of Western democracies. Most recently some former UK Labour Party MPs and Ministers comment publicly about their current leader – Jeremy Corbyn. Some have gone as far as suggesting Labour will not win the next elections under his leadership.

Instead of sometimes, seemingly, wanting our present reality to resemble our organisation in its previous historical form we should decipher the form that can best represent its essence today. In addition, rather than appear to be pontificating we should all be engendering, in word and deed, the outcomes of the National General Council. By so doing, we will succeed to foster and defend unity of the ANC and the unity of our people in general.

Comrade Moferefere Lekorotsoana is the Manager of Communication: Secretary General’s Office (ANC)

Posted in Phambili
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