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Fri Oct 31 18:30:00 SAST 2014

We're doomed if our leaders cease to grow

Brendan Boyle | 01 November, 2012 00:47
Brendan Boyle
Image by: The Dispatch

Just about every ambitious politician in the country has found reason in the past week or so to make mention of - if not devote an entire speech to - the legacy of that great South African, Oliver Tambo, who would have turned 95 last Saturday.

Some, like Jacob Zuma presumed to tell us what he would have done to mend the country and its ruling party at this low point in our post-apartheid history.

"What would he want us to do at this point in our history?" Zuma asked at the Eastern Cape rally organised to gazump the ANC Youth League's claim to host the local Tambo birthday rally.

"He would call on the ANC, and its members and supporters to rise above petty squabbles internally and weld a popular movement equal to the challenges of our times . He would urge us to . protect it from all sorts of negative tendencies, corruption and opportunism."

He may well have been right: that may be what Tambo would have wanted. It is a fairly uncontroversial supposition given the mess the current ANC leadership has made of things. But perhaps by now Tambo would have quit the ANC in disgust to join COPE. Or he might have bowed out of politics to join the corporate world.

My guess is that he would be at home, like Nelson Mandela, reading the papers, receiving the occasional visitor and privately mourning the death of a dream.

The point is, however, that the Tambo we remember and revere lived and died in the context of the struggle for freedom from the abomination of apartheid. When he passed on in April 1993, we were still a year away from the election that changed everything. He spent his entire life in the context of opposition to an evil that was obvious, at least in the final decades of his life, to almost everyone on earth.

Tambo never had to make the transition from one defining context to another, as, for example, Zuma himself, Thabo Mbeki and FW de Klerk have had to do - and as Cyril Ramaphosa has had to do.

There has been a rush to pillory Ramaphosa following lawyer Dali Mpofu's release at the Marikana commission of e-mails allegedly sent by him to colleagues in the Lonmin executive.

Ramaphosa, now a shareholder and director of the mine hit by an unprotected wildcat strike, labels the strike action in which, at that point, the strikers may have killed 10 people, including two policemen, "plainly dastardly criminal".

It is understandable, though unfortunate, that those who fear Ramaphosa's mooted return to the top leadership of the ANC would use the e-mails to attack him, but less clear why so many in the media were so quick to board that bandwagon. "Ramaphosa exposed", said one online headline. Other analysis in print and online jumped to the same conclusion.

Ramaphosa played a crucial role in the creation and growth of the National Union of Mineworkers. As general secretary, he was the main agent in its 1987 strike, which changed the pattern of mining industry labour relations forever.

But that was then. He has since served as general secretary of the ANC, as an MP and as the ANC's chief negotiator in the crafting of our constitution. He has also built a business empire which holds or has held stakes in industries from newspapers to mining.

Do his critics really think he should have left the boardroom to stand alongside the miners trashing both the profits of the company he served and the power of the union he had helped to build?

South Africa's transition in 1994 was not a binary event that switched off white apartheid power and switched on non-racial ANC power. It was the start of a process in which many would be asked to play quite different roles.

The ANC has a proud history as the liberation movement that spearheaded the forces that toppled white rule. But with that job done, it did not return to barracks, it mutated from liberation movement to political party - and that is the context in which it should now be judged.

Ramaphosa would not be who he is today without his history in the mining unions and the ANC leadership, but today, in the Lonmin context, he is a businessman fighting to protect his investment.

There is nothing wrong with personal evolution. If our leaders don't grow we are doomed. But while a new context brings new perspectives, it does not erase history.

Tambo was never asked to serve in the context of a troubled political party in power, but I would hope that if he were with us today, his experience of being wronged would have prevented him from condoning wrongs done by his own.

And I would have hoped that in his years in business, Ramaphosa might have done more than he appears to have done to transform the lives of the miners he now employs, as he once sought to do when he represented them.

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