The political shake-up of the ANC in Nelson Mandela Bay over the weekend signals a change in the political will of the national leadership of the ruling party to address the leadership crises we have seen in the Bay since 2009.
In drawing from a pool of leaders who have not been at the centre of political squabbles in the region in recent years, Jacob Zuma and company seem to have overcome the trap of drawing leaders from competing factions.
Such a practice in the past resulted in the outcomes of national leadership interventions being construed in factional terms, where one faction would be seen as victors and others as losers.
National political battles also perpetuated that practice in that some were framed as interventions in the public domain while they were realignments of regional structures to be in sync with broader power struggles ahead of national conferences.
Although there are murmurings to the effect that this is in fact a factional victory, it does seem that in the bigger scheme of things, rational logic, strategy and tactics have prevailed over factional political imperatives locally.
Two issues can be understood to have forced the ANC to move in this direction. First, the stakes are too high in Nelson Mandela Bay in the upcoming local government elections and the ANC could not afford another leadership that would be framed and perceived in terms of the previous squabbles.
Second, the succession battle lines nationally have not been drawn fully yet.
The leadership announced over the weekend draws from various sectors. It is a mix of entrepreneurs, professionals and veterans.
It is the first victory for the ANC but the party may claim no easy victories as it were. The acid test of the interim leadership will be its capacity to gain ground at a grassroots branch level, and its ability to displace preceding and potentially new factions.
Its success will be to institute a culture of service and yielding among ANC leaders, one that ensures that people do not want to be at the helm of leadership at all costs.
Therein lies the biggest challenge of the interim leadership and the ANC at large. Mobilising a calibre of people who care about the organisation more than their personal ambitions is almost impossible within the given time.
It does seem that the momentum of self-destruction has caught a life of its own within the ruling party and individuals would have even tended to employ dirty tricks to get into leadership.
It is not all doom and gloom though. The party still has a chance to correct.
However, the national leadership could have been bolder in recruiting a younger breed of leaders and maintaining one or two of its veterans. The party needs fresh ideas at a local level and it’s about time that the ANC outgrows the struggle veterans going forward.
– Ongama Mtimka, Port Elizabeth