Mandela’s Legacy of Hope
By Fred Igbeare
From the sidelines, he projects a shadow of restraint over the potential excesses of his political successors. When Thabo Mbeki tried to eliminate key rivals, Nelson Mandela stepped up to defend them. Cyril Ramaphosa (former ANC Secretary-General), Tokyo Sexwale and Mathews Phosa (both former provincial premiers) were accused of plotting to oust Mbeki. Mandela is reported to have said then that he held the accused men in “high esteem”. Mbeki had run into a wall! The reverberations from that wall transformed over time into a swirling storm that has now swept him out of office!
Mandela’s benevolence limited Mbeki’s options, ensuring that the accused men would survive any ‘Mugabe-like maneuver’. They went on to achieve great successes outside of government, and as part of the ANC’s top hierarchy today, they are said to have helped push Mbeki out without bloodshed! Democracy works!
By serving a one-term presidency, Mandela refused to abuse his popularity and his power. He consequently set a precedence that now resounds through time! Thank God for Mandela! But for his selfless act and restraining presence, South Africa could have become a banana republic today like Zimbabwe! Democracy in South Africa scored a victory when Mbeki lost his job. The message is clear: no one is above the country! Nobody holds the monopoly on how to govern well!
Under Mbeki, the South African economy may have achieved unparalleled growth: he deserves praise for that! That growth sadly has not ‘trickled down’ to the teeming poor. It is time now for new leaders with better skills to try steering the wheels of state!
How to help the people without destroying the economy seems to be the big question. If you are looking for an example of how not to do it, don’t look too far. In Zimbabwe, a power-drunk Mugabe is killing his people with poverty and destroying Zimbabwe’s once robust economy with incompetence! President-for-life, president-for-nothing!
In South Africa, leaders of the post-Mbeki era must find ways to spread the benefits of economic growth to those at the lower ends of society. It is admittedly not an easy task, but it is possible. Leaders who cannot accomplish this task should look for other means of employment! Or be shown the door!
Should Mbeki have been left to serve till the end of his term? Maybe, but the point though is that he is out now! South Africa needs to focus on vetting the next generation of leaders. Said to be a temperate and fair man, the new President, Kgalema Motlanthe has begun a ‘temporary’ tenure. President Motlanthe can help reconcile the Mbeki and Zuma camps within the ANC. If not, they could split into separate political parties. No need to worry here! The South African political landscape could become more competitive as a result, and hence more democratic. There is nothing wrong with that!
The way things are going, it appears the plan is to have Motlanthe ‘hold’ the presidential seat for Jacob Zuma until after next year’s election. That may not be such a great idea! Creating doubts about his integrity as a leader, Zuma has not entirely escaped the corruption charge. I agree with Zuma though that he is innocent until proven guilty! But I am afraid he may just be buying into a ‘messianic complex’ pushed on by his ardent followers.
One notable Zuma supporter is the Leader of the ANC’s Youth League, Julius Malema. He has been quoted as proclaiming a resolve to “kill” or “die for Zuma”! The politics of “do-or-die” has been tested in Nigeria, Zimbabwe and elsewhere with disastrous consequences! Zuma should discourage his followers from going down that road. If they persist in that direction, they are guaranteed to be disappointed, not to mention potentially destroying the country! They would eventually discover Zuma’s limitations in solving all of South Africa’s problems. No one human has all the answers!
Zuma can certainly help alleviate the problems. To his credit, he is identified as been more concerned for the welfare of the common people than Mbeki who has developed a reputation for aloofness. Zuma may have good intentions, but as the great Julius Nyerere of Tanzania has proven, laudable intentions are not enough. Competence matters!
My suggestion is that Zuma stay put as ANC President. From that potent position, he can be the people’s watchdog inside the corridors of power, helping to nurture and mentor new leaders. It would be soooo refreshing to hear Zuma or any other leader say: “I am not the best man to rule, but I will work hard to create conditions for the best people to rise up and govern this country!” Zuma is very popular now, but should not abuse that popularity by trying to install or perpetuate himself in office. He should learn from Mandela!
In an interview with Mike Awoyinfa of the Sun in the thick of Olusegun Obasanjo’s third-term bid in Nigeria, Mandela cautioned that Obasanjo should not abuse his popularity. When Obasanjo came out of General Sani Abacha’s gulag, he was arguably popular. After he became president, Obasanjo’s greed for power undercut his effectiveness. Unlike Mandela who stepped aside to allow the next generation of leaders to grow, Obasanjo squandered his opportunity by clinging to power. Look at the contrasting results: South Africa’s democracy thrives, while Nigeria’s dithers! Mandela wears the hero’s crown; Obasanjo has egg on his face!
Zuma should walk in Mandela’s footsteps! He should turn down the South African presidency (or at most plan to stay one-term), and commit to promoting competent leaders! His present popularity can help extend Mandela’s legacy of hope, a legacy that can see democracy irrevocably entrenched in South Africa. It is a legacy that promotes the ideals that leaders can be selfless and benevolent, not mean and greedy!
Africa’s upcoming leaders do not have to look to the years of misrule by monarchs, colonialists and despots for examples on how to govern. They can look to the stewardship of Nelson Mandela, and build on it!