Sunday, 29 April 2007

The challenge of proactively managing the succession process

The second of two blogs on who the next president of the ANC (and, by extension, the next president of South Africa) will be and the related selection process.

The succession debate brings the challenges facing the ruling party to the fore in a pointed way. Will the African National Congress (ANC) proactively adapt, or will it let change be an external force that pummels it into a new and better shape? In the long run, willingly adapting will be less painful and traumatic.

As a liberation movement of long standing, the ANC has ways of operating that are distinct from other organizational formations. These ways were particularly effective given the circumstances in which it had to operate and the job it had to do. It was fit for purpose, so to say. The organization was relatively cohesive (avoiding the major splits that debilitated the PAC and the BCM). It endured the decades in exile. It managed the ceasefire and a tricky, violence-beset negotiations process in a deeply divided country. In the first and subsequent national elections it raked in more than the lion’s share of the votes.

But now old ways of doing things must give way to the new. This is so on a number of levels; and so the organization has had to begin operating in various areas more like a political party. It has had to manage the links, tensions and articulations between the political party’s structures and government. Even though the ANC is in power, the party as a distinct structure generates the political mandate, upholds the manifesto and holds accountable its people in government. It is getting to grips with what it means to keep an evaluative eye on government in the light of your manifesto when you are the party in power – and through its imbizos how to do so effectively by drawing branches, broad membership and grassroots communities into such assessments.

Regarding leadership succession processes, the official ANC view – and stubbornly so – is that the old approach to leadership election served the party well enough. In terms of procedure, there is no “leadership race,” at least not so many months before the electoral-year conference; the contest will only occur at the national conference itself. The established procedure also tells us that no one puts themselves forward as a candidate for ANC president; party members implore you to stand as a candidate. In all of this the candidate remains coy, humble and perhaps feigning a reluctance to stand.

But reality has intruded; and, as usual it is messier than we like to think. Firstly, there are significant shifts in the human factor. Far too many comrades do not place great store on the idea of standing back until you are deployed or until someone divines that you have certain goals and aspirations about leadership combined with the relevant abilities. Such comrades are not shy about wanting to fast track their chances of ascending to their desired leadership role. Indeed, they feel liberated enough to drop clear hints about their outstanding leadership capabilities and how ready they are to serve the party and the country at higher or the highest levels. Their stance is a far cry from the veterans of the struggle – the ones who are remarkable precisely because they generally subjugated personal and family needs to the demands of the struggle and never blew their own trumpets when the filling of elevated positions was at stake. For many, this newer phenomenon – what some have described as careerism linked to the seductiveness of power, status and influence over budgets – goes together with attaining and enjoying freedom and sharing in the fruit of liberation. It is part of the normalization of society.

This personal/human dimension needs to be overlaid with another aspect: the reality of difference and the emergence of distinct interest groups in the ruling party. Fighting a deadly enemy unites people; it is easy to be seamlessly cohesive in relation what you are "against". However, defeating the enemy – and facing the question of what you are “for” – brings many deep and implacable differences to the fore in a very pronounced way. In today’s ANC, for example, there are differences on the role of business in society, on how poverty should be tackled, on whether the power of provinces should be boosted or diluted and on how race should be handled. In this context, one can see how these elements combine: individuals who want to be in the highest posts possible and certain groups that are looking for a powerful or potentially powerful leader to spearhead their agenda.

Within this reality we have the ironic situation where there is - officially - no succession race underway but where groups and individuals are working flat out on campaigns to determine who will (and who will not) be the next ANC president. This messy situation is having a variety of corrosive effects on the ANC and its effective functioning as South Africa’s leading progressive party. Consider these examples, all linked directly or indirectly to succession-related infighting and rivalry:
- The situation is leading to policymaking and leadership paralysis in certain areas. In many provinces, and in a good number of municipalities, projects and policy initiatives have been shot down for the simple reason that they were being proposed by a person viewed as being from a rival camp.
- Mistrust and suspicion is rife. Comrades and colleagues generally seem inordinately anxious to know whether one is positive or negative toward either current ANC President Thabo Mbeki or Jacob Zuma. Many ANC officials working in government - where various interest groups have little knots of supporters - feel it is better (safer, more prudent?) not to express a view on the succession debate.
- The contestation is playing into - and complicating - other social fault lines (race, ethnicity and gender), with deleterious consequences. In the Western Cape, the most powerful ANC leaders of African and coloured origin don’t work together even though such co-operation is the ANC’s only hope for advancing positive social change in that province. In KwaZulu-Natal, we see a rise of small but vocal pockets of activists who espouse Zuluism - the notion that “I am Zulu first, South African later”. With regard to gender, the position is direr. In her book, The Kanga and the Kangeroo Court, Mmatshilo Motsei argues that the complainant in Zuma’s rape trial is a person “caught in the crossfire of the nation’s succession battle”. As the process unfolds, Zuma is under pressure to define his attitude to women’s rights while the ANC Youth League has issued veiled warnings that it will closely watch to see that the ANC’s strong commitment to advancing women into top roles does not play too strong a role in the succession debate. The struggle for women's rights and gender justice is hard enough; but now the real issues of gender, women's rights and women's leadership are becoming entangled in claims of conspiracy and suspicions of a utilitarian approach to gender issues.
- Policy discussions are being downplayed in favour of mudslinging, the digging up of scandals and some dirty play. We have seen basic gender issues mystified, the anti-corruption fight being distorted, masks being worn instead of candid engagement and, of course, the hoax e-mail saga.

It is in the light of this that the movement should consider adopting a different approach. It should accept that a good number of party members might wish to throw their hats into the ring for the presidential race. It should accept that such persons, or at least their supporters, might want to mobilize support for their candidacy.

It should permit free discussion that would include motivating why a particular person would be good for the growth and future of the organization. It should create a climate where such support for a particular candidate is not necessarily viewed as hostile to or a declaration of war on another presidential hopeful.

The ANC should allow a process in which a person may announce themselves as a candidate for the presidential election a good seven or eight months before the actual election takes place. Also, it might consider a process where a leadership discussion and several leadership conferences are held before nominations are opened. Such events could explore the ANC’s present and emerging leadership needs and translate such into key criteria for top leadership. Linked to this, it could require that those submitting a nomination make a formal submission which sets out how a particular candidate being nominated meets the criteria. Branch and regional endorsements can still be part of the process; candidates can be required to obtain such endorsement either before or after such nomination.

Being more open about the existence of succession fever will allow the party to manage the process through the use of ground rules for campaigning. Nominated candidates could be required to sign-off their acceptance of such ground rules. Thus, those who are nominated will be aware that, while they may campaign fervently and even aggressively, they may do so only in ways that are acceptable, ethical and line with certain principles espoused by the movement. Less mud, more substance! And they will know that, sooner or later, their behaviour will be scrutinized and examined by party colleagues, the media and the wider public in the light of agreed rules of play.

Of course, no-one is suggesting that making such changes as discussed will be easy-peasy for the ANC. Apart from anything else, it will involve giving up the noble ideal about the altruism of leaders in its ranks and conceding that, these days, individual commitment is not as pure and simple as it used to be. It will entail admitting that the needs and aspirations of ANC members are shifting and that not everyone accepts that individuals should be totally subsumed within the collective. But the ANC will find that the gains made are worth the pain. For example, an above-board electioneering process managed by an explicit code of conduct for campaigning will reduce or minimize damage to the organisation caused by “underground” fights over who will be party boss. The other benefit would be that discussion over leadership - leadership qualities and capabilities as well as norms of democratic contestation for leadership power – would be deepened.

Tussles for leadership need not be divisive, destructive, toxic, debasing and damaging to a political party’s credibility – succession and changes in top leadership can also be managed in ways that are good for the party and take democracy forward.

Saturday, 21 April 2007

ANC succession race is on

The first of two blogs on who the next president of the ANC (and, by extension, the next president of South Africa) will be and the related selection process.

One cannot discuss the big ANC succession debate without getting into the more juicy stuff, including wild and completely subjective speculation about what the odds are, who's stabbing who in the back and what the favourites and outsiders look like.

A major bunfight is underway, with various groups within the ANC wanting to make sure their man or women is in the top job. COSATU and the Communist Party are angling to directly influence who sits there (because they want much greater influence in ANC affairs), while a strong lobby groups has built up around Jacob Zuma. For their part, the powerful and politically skilful President Thabo Mbeki and his staunchest supporters have their own designs on the "who" and "how" of the elections for the top post - and are giving clear signs they won't simply let these other pressure groups have their way.

As far as women candidates go, Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Zuma is very much in the runnings. She is a compelling leader, has in the past been called up to be the country's Deputy President (and said no) and is now one of the most capable and likely compromise candidates for the post of ANC president. She is of course part of Mbeki's Cabinet and undoubtedly has his support. At the same time, former hubby Jacob Zuma - when approached - has apparently told her he would not mobilise his forces to squash her chances if she stood. However, her challenge is that she lacks a strong base among rank and file. Her portfolio has also kept her far from the provincial and branch battlegrounds where such support is won or lost.

Another strong women candidate is Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ncgucka. She is astute, has substantial government experience and a deft handle on policy issues. However, the feeling in movement circles is that she "is not ready". Like pre-cooked food marinating in sauces or like a really good wine, she is being reserved for later.

What women have counting against them is their sex (living in a patriarchal society, should we be surprised at all?) When you ask well-placed movement men about the chances of a particular women becoming ANC numero uno, they simply smile or give a muffled laugh and say: the membership is not ready for a women president. In some cases, what this means is: I myself am not ready, given our culture and values, to embrace such a shift.

As male candidates go, Jacob Zuma is in pole position. Many people suggest Zuma is not ANC leadership and presidency "material". But reality is that Zuma is eminently electable, especially if you consider what has counted for donkey's years: He is tried and tested in terms of struggle, and he is currently the ANC Deputy President. Many detractors wonder if he can handle policy debates and the conceptual issues related to transformation, at least at the same level that President Mbeki - or even Phumzile Ngcuka - does. But these are new criteria, and indications are that such new criteria simply do not wash with rank and file. Others point to Zuma's escapades - with the shower, the condomless-sex and the kanga, and his highly deficient management of his financial affairs - and to related indications that he is unable to practice "leadership of self". But such things are major flaws only in the eyes of the greater public and a minority within the ANC; the bigger chunk of ANC members view these as forgivable errors and/or irrelevant issues. Of course, Zuma's challenge - if he is not stopped by a court case and if he indeed sails through the lobbying and voting - would be how to repackage and market himself so that he can be accepted as a (legitimate and respected) leader of progressive forces and South Africans more broadly.

In the background are names like Reserve Bank Governor Tito Mboweni and Minister of Trade and Industry Mandisi Mpahlwa. This is the pinstriped brigade, the ultra sophisticated men of the movement. Put them in front of an audience of international investors and they have the latter munching out of their hands. They are seen as credible leaders. However, these are not forefront contenders when you consider party dynamics and power relations within the ANC. They surface, however, when compromise candidates are discussed. A challenge in terms of these candidates is that, although we know both are capable of such, they have so far not conveyed any strong "stands" in relation to how transformation should proceed and be accelerated.

The name of Finance Minister Trevor Manual cannot be left out of a discussion on succession, even though he ranks as a complete outsider due to the ANC's traditional emphasis on black African leadership of the struggle. But he scores high on NEC election lists at ANC national conferences, and his name has popped up in the debates leading up to the conference later this year as a possible "one-term" compromise candidate. The disadvantage for him is that COSATU hates his guts for forging and driving forward government's GEAR policy.

What about the chances of business tycoons in the ANC. Many of these have great appeal with the wider public, and would be easily marketable as president to broad interest groups in society. The business bigwigs can mobilise well at certain levels - and Saki Macozama is a behind-the-scenes mover and shaker par excellence; but they are generally removed from the grassroot membership. Parts of the ANC constituency, particulary those which share COSATU and Communist Party membership, will vehemently oppose such candidates on the grounds that such persons would use a presidential position to drive business interests and put the brakes on a working class agenda.

Saki Macozoma is seen to be embroiled in some of the factional divisions in the ANC and would be a definite no-no for the Zuma constituency. He might have to be happy with the role of kingmaker that many ascribe to him. Of the businesspersons, Tokyo Sexwale seems to be the only one with a meaningful chance. His social responsibility initiatives are more widely known than others in his league, and he has certain political skills that, if he were appointed the Big Man, may be handy in managing stalemates and deadlocks between the major opposing camps. Cyril Ramaphosa is the darling of many in the business and media world. However, Ramaphosa's Achilles Heel is that while he is tried and tested as a unionist, he is not steeped in ANC traditions. Furthermore, the challenge for almost all in the businessmen category is that both the Mbeki and Zuma support groups view them with deep distrust and suspicion - as opponents to be stopped rather than horses that could receive possible backing. Also with respect to this group and their relationship to current political leadership in government, there is very frequent talk of backstabbing, recrimination and grudges that date back to previous succession contests.

Finally, while Zuma may have peaked too early, someone coming late into the race is the ANC's Kgalema Motlanthe - a horse that looks sleek, seems race fit and has energy to go the distance. With his hands on the ANC machinery and strong day-to-day connections with the membership base, Motlanthe is an extremely strong contender. He has political flair, and a political style that, although ponderous, is positively regarded by most within the ANC: a patient and considered decision-making style, high regard for process and consultation, a commitment to notions of fair play and a deep knowledge of "the ANC way of doing things" coupled with a habit of constantly drawing on ANC historical knowledge and theoretical foundations.
Although there are various rumours about his partisan involvement in the tussling between the Zuma and Mbeki mobilisation groups, his strengths mean that he could survive this controversialness. He balances a strong link to unions and active members in many of the poorest provinces with an attention to old fashoined ANC practices that may still make him acceptable as the leader to the broadest base.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

The elusive honey of BEE

Black Economic Empowerment has been slammed by commentators from many quarters - by key people in government and critical voices at other levels in society. Externally the likes of Moeletsi Mbeki, Sipho Seepe, Duma Gqubule, Jeremy Cronin and others have let rip. Now Finance Minister Trevor Manual has expressed his concern and called for a fundamental review.

BEE is meant to straighten out a skewed economy, one is that is deeply shaped by apartheid and the principles of apartheid. It is only logical that when doing away with that brutal, perverse and morally bankrupt system, we would want to go one step further and erase its traces in various parts of society. All the more in a sphere as important as the economy, which - given its immense capacity - is able to disseminate and multiply the effects of apartheid perpetually into the future. Furthermore, BEE is about distributing access, opportunities and resources for a decent life to wider layers of South Africans, and about strengthening the credibility, sustainability and susbtantiveness of political change.

Whether narrow-based or broad-based, whether delivering pots of honey or just a whiff here and there, BEE has always been problematic. It hobbles along - initially poorly steered and supported by government and lacking a framework. In later stages and while enjoying more political backing, it continues to suffer from conceptual and methodological problems, the latter being the problem of relying on tools and mechanisms that don't deliver what's intended. The conceptual muddle is apparent when even a government commission refused to distinguish between broad-based delivery of social services and real development of black influence, power and expertise in the business world. They refused to put their bums on the block - and shied away from a more focused definition of black economic empowerment.

There has been constant concern about BEE benefitting a tiny few. A handful of people - the usual suspects, as they are called - keep surfacing as central players and key beneficiaries in major deals. So much so that the ANC's Kgalema Motlanthe has proposed putting a limit on the number of BEE deals any individual may be involved in. (Of course, he did not say how such a ground rule would be enforced).

What I have argued also (see newsletter/news9.htm")is that - although nobody says this out loud - BEE is shaped largely by white business interests. Here words like cynicism and self-interest come into play. It is clear that mainline white business interests cannot be custodians of the BEE agenda. These interests will make adjustments and will launch interesting BEE initiatives - but this is usually with an eye to sustaining income via government tenders, to restoring vibrancy to languishing businesses or to cashing in as banks and other agencies advance the megabucks that change hands in the deal.

In recent years, it has become clearer that such protagonists formulating major BEE deals are targeting ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) members or former NEC members. There are also signs that Cabinet Ministers are being singled out for beneficiary status. This is logical from a business point of view, in the sense that political connectivity acts as the value that the BEE partner brings to the table; but one can also see how the circle of the chosen few is being drawn even more tightly. In the case of the Cabinet Minister, one can see the ethical problems and good governance questions that arise.

There does not seem to be a way of stopping this focus on ANC NEC members as ideal suitors in BEE deals. Not only are there no mechanisms or levers (at least not ones that would stand up in law), there is also currently no will to curb this trend. As deplorable as this phenomenon (targeting ANC top leaders for BEE share ownership deals) might be, in a free society governed by the free enterprise system and in a capitalist world, many former political activists and current political leaders are naturally taking opportunities to accumulate personal wealth. In most cases, they have spent their entire lives in the struggle, shunning other career possibilities in favour of fighting full-time for freedom. For many years in the past they had depended on the ANC for a meagre income. Now they say - as did Smuts Ngonyama - "I did not join the struggle to be poor". This statement may be taken to mean "I joined the struggle precisely as a path to gaining life's comforts" or "When I joined the struggle, I made no commitment to repudiate opportunities for greatly increasing my personal wealth". All in all, it is not realistic to hope that ANC top dogs give up a chance to be rich through a BEE deal - not without considering the broader stimulants and influences in society as well as dominant social attitudes that place emphasis on "net worth" - and on having possessions that reflect wealth and affluence.

BEE is a space and opportunity. While people will - and must - continue to look at ways of curbing the distortions, many others from the (formerly and/or currently) disadvantaged community will focus on the here and now as they see it and will emphasize the importance of invading the spaces opening up. They might argue that the moves they make to grab opportunities, even if such opportunities are confined to a few, help to effect incremental change (which is necessary in the absence of more far reaching changes). Thus many agendas are at play in the field of BEE, and narrower interests dominate.

Those seriously concerned about the trends in BEE, however, now need to go beyond talking and passive criticism. Concerned interest groups should consider certain key actions and selected interventions - and the possibilities for using networking, advocacy and organisation in order to move thinsg in the right direction. They need to probe the centres of thinking and the nodes of key decision-making with regard to BEE. Possible targets here are organised white business and leading spokespersons for their interests. Another relevant target is the coterie of leading black businessmen who are well connected to the ANC and who command influence through the multiplied millions they possess in assets and cash. The latter group can be engaged in dialogue that may result in shifts in their the moral or philosophical positions. The former can be engaged through negotiations and discussions that would include reference to the links between black economic empowerment on the one hand and reconciliation and restorative justice on the other.

The following key thrusts should be considered in demanding a reshaping and improvement of BEE:
a) The ways in which BEE could contribute to the Accelerated Growth and Development strategy and support rather than undermine strategies aimed at narrowing the divide between the First and Second economy.
b) The challenge within the context of BEE of bringing black graduates into the workplace; such persons are trained to play leadership and management roles in society, yet they are frequently excluded from a meaningful place in economic affairs through racial and old power networks.
c) The gender dimensions of poverty and injustice and whether BEE can be shaped to undo rather than reinforce gender inequality and marginalisation of women.
d) Issues related to ethnicity; whether by accident or design, BEE should not be implemented in ways that increase perceptions of marginalisation of particular ethnic groups. Failure to undertake BEE in ways that align with nationbuilding (and with building an inclusive society) will create medium and long-term risks for the economy.
e) The fact that BEE, if it is about expanded access to a meaningful role in the economy, must assist the emergence of small and medium enterprises. The current attention to affirmative procurement and the implementation of this policy do assist, especially in the public sector. However, most government departments - and parastatals such as SETAs - through their daily practice are ensure that the emerging entrepeneur is either killed off or remains stuck in survival mode. This they do through extremely late payments, through inordinate delays in and summary terminations of tender process and through generally unprofessional treatment of small companies.

The moral and philosophical foundations of BEE are right, but it is being distorted by society's dominant values, by certain white business interests and by many instances of perverse and cynical implementation. Those interested in fairer and more socially responsible BEE must seek practical intervention points for bringing about positive changes in the process.

Saturday, 7 April 2007

Shirley, Goodness and Mercy: the play

This piece of theatre - on at the Johannesburg's Market Theatre until 13 May 2007 - captures a good deal of the essence of Chris van Wyk's book, Shirley Goodness and Mercy: a childhood memoir. Directed by Janice Honeyman, the play not only communicates effectively the sounds, sights, flavours and smells in the book, it also provides many delightful excerpts from the well-written text itself. Such extensive word-for-word rendition gives the play particular strength since a salient feature of Van Wyk's book is his wry, witty (some would say sly) and often hilarious turn of phrase.

The play does not fully or always capture the depth of the book itself, and in instances appears to miss the meaning of Van Wyk's reflections as conveyed in the memoir. In addition, there is miserly coverage of the older Van Wyk, as he positions himself in the world in a way that is rich in insights and perceptions which in turn throw light on how South Africans generally manage the complexity and contradictions of change. (Of course, some of the differences may be seen as to-be-expected consequences of translating text to a different medium. Others appear, however, to be directorial choices). Nevertheless the work still has many strengths. The play does not romanticize the community or the responses of the poor to their circumstances but depicts life in coloured townships warts and all. It portrays the growing pains of a boy who delights in the love and caring of his mother, closely studies the quirks of family members and neighbours, asks too many questions and frequently spices it all up by self-deprecating recollections of several of his own escapades.

The telling of the story is richly textured, joyous, vibrant and filled with mirth; it is through such telling, and only indirectly, that we learn about a community's resilience through difficult and confusing times. As the play ends, there is - powerfully so - no easy resolution to social challenges, including aspects such as poverty, widespread parochialism, discriminatory attitudes and confusion around identity. Many questions remain about the future for families and the community depicted, but one is left with the distinct impression that story-telling, neighbourliness and a distinctive vibrancy will extend well into the future as people of such communities continue to strive to better their lives.