We must look to OR Tambo to see what true leadership is

2017-10-24 23:33

The year 2017 has been devoted to the celebration of the life of Oliver Reginald Tambo, who would have turned 100 years old on Friday.

During this year we celebrate the life of OR Tambo the late former president and activist of the ANC, who dedicated his life to the liberation of the Africans and South African people in particular.

He will always be remembered for his signature style of leading through consensus, unlike today where there is a high level of intolerance on divergent views in our organisation. In the battle of ideas, persuasions or engagements until a consensus is reached is now deteriorating in our organisation and comrades now rely on numbers.

Comrades hate each other to an unbelievable level. If we once reconciled with the apartheid government and the ANC made peace with the IFP, then why is it so difficult for us to reconcile with each other as comrades?

The former president of the ANC, Thabo Mbeki, said: “What distinguished Oliver Tambo from other leaders was an unwavering commitment to serve the people of South Africa with no expectation of any personal benefit.”

This affirmed a value system at the centre of which is respect for the fundamental principle and practice that leaders are there to serve the people.

Manipulation of ANC processes and gate-keeping to advance selfish and narrow personal agendas is unnecessary and anti-ANC. This can never be sustained and it is a clear sign of a leader whose political consciousness has eroded to an irreparable state, particularly because leadership confers obligation and not privileges on those who wield power.

Isolation of any member from any programme or activity of the organisation is against OR’s vision of the ANC. The late Nelson Mandela spoke the following words at Tambo’s funeral on 2 May 1993 in Johannesburg: “Oliver Tambo has not died, because the ideals of freedom, human dignity and a colour-blind respect for every individual cannot perish.”

If he were still alive I am convinced that OR wouldn’t support slates because that practice is against one of the founding principles of the ANC, which is “unity”. Factionalism is also not a normal practice, for it divides members of the organisation and this needs to be uprooted and destroyed. The alignment of leaders to these factions is unfortunate and evidently needs to stop.

Vuyiswa Dlamini, a former MK operative said that Tambo’s kind of leadership was “caring, inclusive, altruistic and engaged”. We really need to look back to our late former leaders and learn from them what true leadership should be like.

The enormous challenges facing our movement are a result of poor leadership at higher structures and in some instances, lack of decisiveness.

Our movement has degenerated and deteriorated to the worst level ever, under the watch of the current national executive committee, noting that the committee is the highest decision-making body between conferences. Even the ANC leagues have sadly relegated themselves into becoming nothing else other that the mouthpiece of certain individuals within the movement. That the reminds me of the wise words that were once said by OR: “Nothing is strong enough to destroy the ANC, the ANC can only destroy itself.”

The characteristics of a leader define the path and destiny of the organisation the leader leads.

Tambo said this about Mandela: “Nelson Mandela is on Robben Island today. His inspiration lives on in the heart of every African patriot. He is the symbol of the self-sacrificing leadership our struggle has thrown up and our people need.”

Corruption is rife; in some instances regarded as normal life. Anarchy today is the order of the day in all spheres of governance and in our day-to-day political life.

I am certain that if OR was still alive today, he wouldn’t have supported the idea that a leader is succeeded by his or her own relative in the organisation and also, he would have objected the notion that the deputy president automatically succeeds the president. Naturally because in essence, that undermines the purposes of nominations and voting, in all positions within the organisation as a basic principle.

In order for the ANC to self-correct, I believe it needs to swallow its pride and acknowledge the fact that the 2007 Polokwane conference was a disgrace and unfortunately, challenges facing the organisation are as a result of what transpired in that conference, now these are the painful after effects.

Fortunately the ANC still has an opportunity in the December conference at Nasrec to self-correct, those few within the national executive committee who still believe in what the great Mahatma Gandhi once said: “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean. If a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”

The type of tendencies we are currently facing must be rooted out of our organisation. We as members of this glorious movement, the African National Congress need to stand up and loudly say:

• “Not on our names and never under our watch.”

• “Enough is enough.”

• “We shall elect leaders who stand by their values and regard OR as their role model. Leaders who lead by the examples of John Langalibalele Dube, Chief Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela and other great leaders of our movement and our country.”

• “Long live the spirit of OR Tambo, long live.”

Alpha Shelembe is a member of the KwaZulu-Natal legislature and a former ANC Moses Mabhida region chairperson. He writes in his personal capacity.

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September 15 2019