Next ANC leader needs style, not substance


Most will probably agree that if Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is officially nominated for the office of ANC President, none of her opponents will stand a chance.

Nothing is ever set in stone, but at this juncture it is very difficult to believe that anyone running against her will win.

However, what many will probably not agree on is the capacity of Dlamini-Zuma to drag the ANC out of the rut that it currently finds itself in. The author of this article certainly doesn’t think that she can.

The African National Congress Women’s League (ANCWL) made a major pronouncement on Dlamini-Zuma’s potential candidacy at the weekend.

“After careful consideration and opening our eyes as wide as possible, Cde Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is the only suitable candidate at this point in our history to lead the African National Congress in December 2017,” read the statement released by the Women’s League.

It goes on to say that the Women’s League will “lobby for Cde Baleka Mbete, Cde Jessie Duarte, Cde Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Cde Lindiwe Sisulu, Cde Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and Cde Nomvula Mokonyane to be considered in the other 5 of the 6 official positions of the African National Congress in December 2017.”

Critically, the ANCWL considers itself the voice of reason within the ANC. It also explains that the decision was based on what it believes is the leadership the governing party needs right now.

But after reading their statement I am not convinced that the ANCWL has a firm grasp, if any, on what the ANC needs right now. Gender representation cannot be the only argument they present when they lobby for this ticket…surely not.

When the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) endorsed Cyril Ramaphosa’s “candidacy” for President of the ANC last year, it at least displayed a sense of the mess that the ANC now finds itself in.

Cosatu acknowledges that the ANC is weakened and divided, and that the Tripartite Alliance is dysfunctional.

Cosatu’s vision is a lot clearer, even if it is misguided. The jury is probably out on whether Ramaphosa is the answer to the problems Cosatu expressed.


For the greater part of the past two decades the ANC has been in a position to brush off wave after wave of attacks from the opposition forces in South Africa. It was able to do so because the party’s foundation was built upon a rock.

President Thabo Mbeki was often called aloof during his tenure at the helm of the ANC and as South Africa’s Head of State.

But in truth, he did not have to be bothered by the constant barrage of attacks from the media, the opposition, the public and even from within the ANC. He scoffed at the idea of debates with opposition leaders. What for? There was no need.

Mbeki was the technician – a man who rolled up his sleeves and got the job done – and at the time a technician was all the ANC needed.

Circumstances have since changed though.

Slowly, but surely, the ANC’s rock is being eroded – by Julius Malema, by Zwelinzima Vavi, by Irvin Jim and even to some degree by Mosiuoa Lekota. The latter did make a contribution to status quo, however minimal it might seem. The more break aways there are, the less sturdy the foundation.

The ANC is losing. It can no longer be business as usual for the governing party.

Now, more than ever, the ANC needs a “bulldog” at the helm of the organisation. Somebody who can bite back and make it sting. Somebody who will not sit back and just take the wave of insults, accusations and criticisms levelled towards the ANC.

The ANC needs a leader who can be the aggressor, because that is the kind of leader who galvanises a group that is under siege, because he/she makes that group feel and look like it is winning, even if it is not. Perceptions are now everything. Previously they didn’t matter.

This is an era of style and charisma and not substance.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has a lot of substance. She might be the leader the ANC deserves. But she is certainly not the leader the ANC needs right now.

By Siyabonga Mchunu