Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Weekly Newsletter to the Nation
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
The line "we campaign in poetry, but we govern in prose", attributed to Mario Cuomo, a former New York governor, could aptly apply to last week’s highly contested leadership contest for the ANC leadership.
We all feel punch drunk at the extraordinary events in Polokwane as collective witnesses to a truly Shakespearean drama which lay bare the hopes and dashed dreams of victor and vanquished alike. Politics can be a ghastly business. British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli described politics in the late nineteenth century as the "greasy pole". I can think of other metaphors, but, perhaps, this is not the place.
It has been widely suggested that the IFP was rooting for Mr Mbeki by commentators who cherry picked quotes from a speech that I gave two weeks ago. Business Day on the 12th of December claimed: "But not all political parties want to see the back of Mbeki. The IFP and ACDP came out singing Mbeki’s praises. While the IFP shied away from calling for a third term for Mbeki, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the party’s president, defended Mbeki’s track record."
And the Sowetan, in a similar vein, carried the following report the same day:
"Zakhele Ndlovu said he was also surprised by recent comments by IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
"At the weekend Buthelezi expressed concern that the interests of South Africa were being sidelined while Mbeki was battling it out with Zuma.
"He said the divisions, backstabbing and accusations within the ANC ahead of the elective conference this weekend was bad for all South Africans and that ordinary people had suffered more because of the succession battles.
"The ANC has taken its focus off the issues and placed it on personalities. It is fighting over who gets what, rather than fighting for our country’s future," Buthelezi said.
"He further applauded Mbeki for his "patriotism" in leading the country as the president.
"South Africa has been led by a talented patriot with a clear grasp of public policy for the last eight years.
"He possesses a sense of certitude and a shrewd intellect," he said.
Ndlovu said he shared Buthelezi’s sentiments on the fact that the succession battle has shifted the focus of government. However, he felt that Buthelezi was just taking advantage of the situation.
"Since the succession debate began, Buthelezi’s comments have been clearly trying to take advantage of the situation.
"With 2009 national elections being the IFP’s focus, he has been trying to create an impression that people must look outside the ANC for an alternative," said Ndlovu.
"Ndlovu said Buthelezi was trying all he could to make people view the IFP as an alternative party, especially in KwaZulu-Natal." (This last paragraph is spot on).
Quite apart from the obvious fact that the IFP did not have a block vote at Polokwane, a full reading of my speech from which Business Day and the Sowetan quote clearly spells out my position.
"As an opposition party, it is not the IFP’s role or right", I told the IFP youth, "to prescribe to ANC branch members how or for whom they should vote. It is our right, however, to enjoin them to choose a leader who is best qualified to pursue the constitutional directives to liberate our people from HIV/Aids, poverty, joblessness, criminal activities, poor education and preventable diseases. This is the responsibility we all share in South Africa today without regard to our political affiliation."
This distinctly un-poetic prose might not make for great copy, but it crisply states what ordinary South Africans want from their government.
There is no need to "sex it up".
I also asked, as I’ve appealed for a long time, that President Mbeki (he is still South Africa’s first citizen) be treated with the respect his office of state demands. I listed his government’s achievements (and the policy disasters), which Mr Zuma shared as Deputy President until two and a half years ago. Many seemed to have forgotten this.
Like Mr Brown, who followed Mr Blair in Britain this year, it is still the same ANC and it is still the same government. You can reshuffle the pack, but it is still the same brand product. So I repeat: "we campaign in poetry, but we govern in prose".
I also underline this because many commentators at home and abroad credit Mr Zuma for ending the violence between the IFP and the ANC and for bringing me into government in 1994. Mr Zuma played a role, amongst many others, in a complex and, often, thwart, peacemaking process. There were peace accords, bi-party committees, international assistance and, most importantly, the determination of local communities to end violence.
Nor am I aware that Mr Zuma played a pivotal role to bring me and the IFP into government. Under the terms of the interim Constitution that entitled any party that secured 5% percent of the vote representation in the cabinet, the IFP entered the national government and I became Minister of Home Affairs in the government of President Nelson Mandela and then President Thabo Mbeki’s first government until 2004.
Mirroring the spirit of the interim Constitution and the ruling party’s magnanimity, the IFP-led KwaZulu Natal provincial government between 1994 and 2004 made reconciliation its top priority when it invited the then junior ANC partner to govern the province in a partnership on equal terms. Mr Zuma served in one of these IFP led administrations before the 1999 election. Let us not over egg the pudding by attributing these complex processes to the charismatic gifts of one individual.
It would be dangerous if we fell into the easy temptation of embracing charismatic style leadership as a panacea to all our problems. The charismatic model of leadership can, of course, inspire a nation.
Winston Churchill, Franklin D Roosevelt and Nelson Mandela are random examples of twentieth century leaders who fall into this category (although their leadership was backed up with plenty of pragmatic policy making and idealism). Twenty first century South Africa needs inspiration for sure, but more importantly, we need competent and accountable government.
As it stands, if Mr Zuma becomes President in 2009, he will inherit a political landscape blighted by sectional divisions and a nation fatigued by scandal and corruption. Do words have the power to change the course of events? Yes, but it will also require formidable political talents to heal the latter and preserve the former. It will require steely political will to take on the challenge posed to our people by HIV/Aids and related opportunistic infections.
Our country seeks discipline and direction under leadership, not the chaotic scenes we saw in Polokwane in this last week.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP