Raymond Suttner discusses models of African National Congress leadership with regards to outstanding individual leaders and the notion of collective leadership.
Witherden: While there have been many outstanding individual leaders in the ANC, one of the hallmarks of the party seems to have been a reference to a ‘collective'. How do you interpret this?
Suttner: It wasn't always the case. The notion of collective leadership only started in the 1950s with Sisulu as secretary-general of the ANC, before that, it was individual charismatic, or not-charismatic, leaders.
The importance of collective then was that an individual did not decide, but that it was more democratic.
See, collective has been referred to as having a number of different potentialities. On the one hand, in war situations, it restricts what you can do. But in the context of the ANC of that time, when it started, to have collective leadership made it much more democratic than to have individual leadership.
But it also meant that having discussed it fully, the collective would abide by that decision until individuals had persuaded others to depart from it.
So this was a democratisation of the ANC.
Witherden: Given the challenges of modern government, is this notion of a collective leadership still appropriate?
Suttner: It is a tried and tested method, but the question is the relationship between collectivism and centralisation.
Now, people have written that after liberation struggles, the popular struggle collapses into centralisation.
The organisation or party collapses into the cabinet, who centralise in the alleged collective leadership and in fact, the centralisation tends to go to the President.
Now that would have variations in South Africa with Mandela being quite old when he became President, but he did centralise some decisions and he sometimes also, as ANC leader, took decisions outside of the collective, like starting negotiations.
He knew, very well, he says so, that this was without organisation approval.
Some people would say ‘but what does that say for collective leadership?' Others would say he was farsighted, and in retrospect he is vindicated.
But, when Mbeki did that, he couldn't carry it off, he didn't have the prestige of Mandela.
Witherden: How does ANC leadership in the Zuma era compare with leadership under the likes of Mbeki, Mandela, Sisulu, Luthuli?
Suttner: Firstly we must note the names you've mentioned are all men and it is noteworthy that the leadership of the ANC, the models of leadership in the ANC have tended to be male models.
The significance of post 1990 leadership is that it is not a complete break with ANC history, in that the ANC created possibilities for centralisation, for militarism and for a number of other things, because we never fully came to terms with the past.
What we are seeing in the Zuma era is a leadership with a fairly high representation of people who are convicted of criminality. People who are definitely involved in irregularities. People who had never faced charges against them like the President himself and it is a leadership which is at war with itself, not over ideas, but over positions and over loot.
The paralysis of Zuma relates to incapacity to resolve this.
Now, when Zuma goes, because I believe that he will not necessarily serve out his full term, when Zuma goes, no one is able to hold these people together, they are not resoluble. There is finite amount of wealth that can be dispensed through the ANC and State bodies and there are a finite number of positions.
The Zuma era, for me, carries continuities with the past in that there is a heroic element that he fed into the militarisation, which ANC never came to terms with properly for the modern period.
There was a legacy of heroism, integrity and those things, but there was also a legacy of dishonesty and violence.
Now, the Zuma era sees a preference being given to looting tolerance of irregularities, illegalities and violence.
Also, in the Presidents sexual escapades and generally you can see that the ANC never entrenched gender equality properly or freedom of sexual orientation.
Under the Zuma era, these are under threat despite becoming fully recognised rights under the Bill of Rights.
Witherden: Next time we will discuss the glorification of violence on Reflections with Raymond Suttner.
Click here to watch Part 1: Raymond Suttner speaks on the evolution of the African National Congress, covering the party's formative years, its resistance to apartheid, mass participation and its rise to government.
Click here to watch Part 3: Raymond Suttner considers the "glorification of violence" under the current African National Congress leadership, as well as the party's decision to take up armed struggle in the 1960s.
Click here to watch Part 4: Raymond Suttner speaks on race, non-racialism, and the relevance of affirmative action and black economic-empowerment today.
Click here to watch Part 5: Raymond Suttner discusses the state of the nation going forward with reference to the Freedom Charter, the performance of the current African National Congress leadership and what needs to be done to make South Africa better.