Values-based leadership within the ANCled government came under critical scrutiny during a recent public dialogue between Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and author Alex Boraine.
Boraine launched his third book, What’s Gone Wrong? On the brink of a failing state, in mid- March at the UCT Graduate School of Business in Cape Town. The launch was part of the school’s Distinguished Speakers Programme.
At the event, Tutu quizzed his deputy chair of the historical Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a public exorcism that ran during the mid-1990s, intended to heal a nation scarred by years of apartheid rule.
The venue was packed and the conversation was brutally frank, evidencing the long friendship between the two respected figures in their fields.
Boraine unpacked the leadership faults within the ANC, as he sees them, claiming that the ruling party was leading South Africa down a failure-filled path.
“Many millions of South Africans are deeply troubled about the situation we find ourselves in. The question I pose, what’s gone wrong, is being asked by many people around the country,” said Boraine.
“If you look at the executive, the head of the country, you don’t quite know who is running the country. It’s more Luthuli House; the party (ANC) rather than the state. The ANC wants its members (in Parliament) to adhere to the ANC constitution and not the country’s constitution.”
He added: “That spirit of democracy, with consensus and opinion, that is no longer happening. If you are a relative, friend or linked to the ANC, you get a job, despite your credentials.”
Boraine said while researching his new book, he walked the corridors of Parliament and interviewed political figures, among them a leading ANC official.
“He said to me that he finds it difficult to speak in Parliament because on the one hand he has to listen to his conscience but on the other he has to listen to his party,” recalled Boraine.
“He said, ‘My party is now sending the worst of the group, the most mediocre, to Parliament because there’s no money to be made there’. He is admitting that people in his party go to where the money is, and not where the service is.”
Tutu meanwhile challenged Boraine with a common misperception that might be thrown back at him for assuming that there was a lack of values within the ANC’s leadership.
“The critique is that you are a white liberal and in a way unpatriotic. What will you say?” asked Tutu.
Boraine replied: “Patriotism is the last resort of scoundrels. There are going to be critics, particularly those who feel that I have painted too dark a picture. One has to tell the truth as you see it.
“You have told the truth for justice, at a great cost for yourself. The example that you have set should be followed by all of us. We need to be a bit risky. The country is in trouble. We have an election on May 7,” he added.
“Let’s say Jacob Zuma returns as president. It may be that the ANC might become so embarrassed by corrupt and inept leadership and then give him the boot. The critical question is: can the ANC be reformed from within? I’m not sure that the ANC can change its spots.”
Tutu reminded Boraine and the audience that the “sky remains firmly in place”.
“At high schools, you watch at breaks, and you see kids representing the whole spectrum. What has gone wrong when we have paradise within our grasp?” he asked.
Boraine replied with his book’s premise: the “promise that we had that has not been fulfilled”.
“I’ve written this book because I care about the country. But I am distressed to see the country going downhill instead of moving forward. The ANC when they first came into power said no political democracy would survive and flourish if the mass of our people remained in poverty. Attacking poverty and deprivation must be the first priority of the democratic nation,” he said.
He said there was “a big chunk” of “good people in the ANC” and they needed to join a “coalition of like-minded people who believe in justice and peace” to steer South Africa back on track.
“We need a new coalition of forces that include the many, many good people in the ANC. I know they must be constantly embarrassed when they see the mess their leadership is making of this country,” said Boraine.
He added: “There’s no room for despair. We can’t say, ‘these people are in power and they will do what they want’. We need to stand up.
“This book does not say all is lost. It says we are in trouble. Let’s try to fix it. We are not a failed state and nothing in this book suggests that we are. I am saying we are failing and if we continue to fail we will reap the consequences of it.
“There’s no use pretending. We have to tell it like it is. It is a troubled country but with incredible and talented people. We have to tap into that. We have to make it work.”
Tutu said when he had envisioned the future he had “imagined we would be cheering on our successors as we moved from one achievement to another”.
“It is a great ache because we have incredible people in this country, of all races, people who are committed to this land. I think of the professionals who could have left and been snapped up. We have people who could go anywhere in the world,” he said.
“It is up to us not to allow our country to go to the dogs. It is up to us to say it is total nonsense to say children have passed school with 30%. It is an insult to us, to those children, that we should say this when we know when many of them are given opportunities, they soar,” said Tutu. “We hold back the incredible potential that there is in this beautiful land.”