Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Online Letter
Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
Upon my return from the World Economic Forum on Africa last week, the IFP's National Council met and took a difficult decision.
Faced with the fact that several of our districts and constituencies have not yet held elective conferences, it became clear to us that holding our Annual General Conference in three weeks time, as scheduled, would go against our Constitution.
The Constitution requires these necessary steps to be completed in advance and we, as National Council, have no authority to circumvent the Constitution, no matter how long we have waited for Conference to be held.
It fell to us to postpone the Conference yet again until the 23rd to 25th of July.
We knew that the media would pounce on this decision and read all manner of hidden agendas into our doing what the Constitution requires us to do. And that happened just as we predicted. It is frustrating that political analysts voice their opinions so freely without understanding the rationale behind our decisions. Because they carry the title of political analysts, people accept their opinions as fact. In many ways, instead of debating problems, they are creating them.
The decision to postpone our Conference was taken collectively and was agreed to by all members of the National Council who were present, including our National Chairperson.
I single out our National Chairperson because much noise has been made, at the instigation of some rabble rousers, about the leadership of our Party supposedly persecuting our National Chairperson due to some perceived ambition on her part to take the presidency at our next elective Conference.
The fact that she has publically rejected the notion of standing for nomination is conveniently ignored.
During our National Council meeting, the National Chairperson's vote was one of the unanimous votes to expel certain leaders from our Party based on their inflammatory utterances expressed outside of Party structures. One would think that if the National Chairperson appreciated their offensive behaviour, ostensibly taken on her behalf, she would have thanked rather than expelled them.
Among the districts which must now hold elective conferences before July are Zululand, the City of Johannesburg, Ethekwini and Umgungundlovu. The ructions accompanying the purported succession debate have disrupted their conferences and given credence to the accepted wisdom that, in Africa, transition is generally accompanied by instability.
This concept was in fact one that we grappled with at the World Economic Forum on Africa just last week. Ms Graça Machel and Ms Tumi Makgoba led us in a multi-generational interactive discussion titled "Leadership in Africa Across the Ages", during which I noted the unique challenge of building within the dynamics of African society both elements of change and stability.
I have borne the responsibility of leadership since the mid-fifties, which is more than half a century. Few people have such a record in modern times, but I would guess that most of them can be found in Africa. Our tradition is that of enduring and stable leadership.
But we must now confront and test this tradition within the demands of a rapidly evolving society. Within the recorded history of mankind, society has never evolved and changed as fast as it has in the past few decades. The present and future rate of change in Africa is bound to be faster than anywhere else in the world, because there are so many opportunities for us to catch up and come on par.
Within this context, we need to ponder whether the rapid transformation of leadership within African society is one of the elements necessary to promote or accommodate change, or whether the continuity of leadership is one of those necessary elements which enable change to take place in a reassuring environment of continuity and stability.
Successful change needs stability. However, for this to work, African leadership must educate itself and be committed to a culture of change, almost to the extreme. This might be difficult, but it is the price to be paid if we want to pursue the possibility of seeing change accompanied by stability.
During the National Assembly debate on the budget vote of the Presidency yesterday, I quoted our President's words at the opening of the King Shaka International Airport in Durban: "We must change the way the Government works, and we must change the way the country works." The need for change, transformation and growth in South Africa has been on our agenda for decades.
When we discussed the future of Africa's democracies at the World Economic Forum, I noted that rivers of ink have been spent on this issue without a concrete plan emerging for how we might entrench democracy further. Among the needs we must consider in South Africa is that of splitting the offices of Head of State and Head of Government, as is prevalent throughout Europe.
Nowhere in sub-Saharan Africa is there a parliamentary system which splits the offices of Head of State and Head of Government, leaving to the President the role of ensuring the survival of democracy, guaranteeing the constitutional order and protecting the rule of law, while the Prime Minister runs the day to day business of government.
Even in those countries in which there is a Prime Minister alongside the President, the executive authority vests in the President, and the Prime Minister is effectively a Vice President. This has removed an important check and balance on the exercise of executive functions.
The World Economic Forum gave me opportunity to call on this continent's leaders to accept that the future of African democracy depends on Africans.
We have passed the season of grievances, complaints and justifications.
Henceforth any injury to our democracies is going to be self-inflicted.
I cannot stress enough the importance of accountability of our leaders both domestically and on a continental basis. I am saddened by how the Peer Review Mechanisms we established following from NEPAD and within the African Union have not yet proven their efficacy. Urgent consideration should be given to finding more effective forms of dealing with this problem.
In this continent we always felt that liberation was a collegial responsibility. We have now embraced the notion of making continental development a collegial responsibility. It is time for us to stand firm and prove that we consider the future of democracy on this continent likewise a collegial responsibility, on the basis of which we accept to be judged by our posterity.
In the short-term, we will be judged by popular opinion, the media and our contemporaries. Over 35 years, the IFP has accepted this inevitability. But rather than employing all our energy to become the flavour of the day, we have focused our vision on the long-term legacy we are giving South Africa.
And a commitment to upholding our Constitution, regardless of how our detractors might use this against us, is one of the immoveable principles that constitute our legacy.
Yours in the service of the nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
Contact: Ms Liezl van der Merwe, 082 729 2510.