Former President Nelson Mandela's last public message to the ANC was brief and almost unintelligible. He was old, frail and could barely stand on his feet. With one hand he was leaning on his walking stick and with the other raising the hand of ANC president Jacob Zuma. He muttered words to the effect, "...lona uNxamalala, uJacob Zuma. Inkosi ye-ANC!" This is Jacob Zuma, he said, the king of the ANC. Mandela was a stickler for traditions, especially ANC traditions.
He once narrated a story about late Swazi monarch, King Sobhuza's last meeting with the then ANC president Oliver Tambo. King Sobhuza had invited Tambo to his palace for a meeting, where he asked, "My president, I'm about to leave this world. What do you want me to say to the ancestors about the state of our ANC?" When Tambo said the ANC was healthy and ready to govern, King Sobhuza said he was happy and was ready to die. He didn't live much longer after that.
It is difficult to picture Mandela being pleased with how Zuma is currently conducting himself as "king" of the ANC and leader of the country.
When Mandela lifted Zuma's hand and presented him to the nation prior to the 2009 general election he was not just campaigning for the ANC, he was anointing Zuma as the legitimate leader of the movement and the nation. He himself, quite like King Sobhuza, was about to leave this world.
Mandela loved and admired Zuma. After his retirement from public office he started a new life as a philanthropist and peace facilitator. When his health began to fail him, Mandela chose Zuma to take over from him as mediator in the Burundi peace process. Zuma didn't disappoint, he delivered the peace deal that brought stability to the central African nation. He had impressed Mandela many times before, in particular when he helped bring about peace between the ANC and the IFP following their low-intensity civil war that ravaged KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in the early 1990s.
While doing his philanthropic work throughout the country after his retirement, he often requested Zuma to accompany him, especially to the Eastern Cape. There Mandela would exalt Zuma as the model leader. In many instances he appeared to be campaigning for Zuma to succeed Thabo Mbeki as ANC leader. He had also been emphasizing the importance of the ANC tradition on succession.
If actions speak louder than words, we will know the direction Zuma has chosen when he finally reconstitutes his cabinet. The state of the nation address he'll make next February will ring hollow if his trusted lieutenants will still be known Gupta surrogates and tainted ministers.
It is safe to say that as president, Zuma has not covered himself in much glory. It is difficult to picture Mandela being pleased with how Zuma is currently conducting himself as "king" of the ANC and leader of the country. The debate about whether he should step down as president of the republic is the single most severe form of rebuke by the ANC on a sitting leader. That he survived the call for him to step down is neither here nor there. He was challenged in his own national executive committee! No other head of state has ever suffered such humiliation while a sitting ANC president. Little wonder he decided to cancel some of his planned engagements and fly off to Cuba. He needed time alone!
Zuma is at a crossroads. On one hand he can persist on the course he has taken of being loyal to the Guptas notwithstanding the numerous damning allegations and negative public perceptions around the family. He can continue on the path of lack of empathy for the millions of people who disapprove of his scandal-ridden administration. He can carry on giggling when members of parliament are strong-armed out of the house simply because they are protesting against his wrongdoing. He can continue forcing the ANC nation of Tambo and Mandela to go on defending his administration's indefensible actions such as allowing a multi-billion rand public broadcaster to fly on autopilot while one man claims to be the board of directors and uses public money to subvert a legitimate inquiry by parliament. He can continue watching people plunder state resources because he'll expose them in his memoirs which he'll only write after he retires.
On the other hand Zuma can bring out his best person, the man Mandela saved his last public address for. He can be the humble man of the people again. He can be the wise leader Mandela promised us he would be. He can heal the nation of Albert Luthuli and Tambo. He can lead a government of the people, by the people and for the people. He can put the plight of the poorest of the poor first before his own interests. He can jealously guard the resources of the state like the country's constitution enjoins him to. He can use his stay in Cuba as a reminder of sacrifices made by Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and other Cuban revolutionaries so that Tambo's people can be truly free from the bondage of poverty, unemployment and inequality.
If actions speak louder than words, we will know the direction Zuma has chosen when he finally reconstitutes his cabinet. The state of the nation address he'll make next February will ring hollow if his trusted lieutenants will still be known Gupta surrogates and tainted ministers. When he allows ANC traditions to be flouted under his watch, he will have chosen the path of being the last king of the ANC.
If Zuma reshuffles his cabinet and he appoints men and women of unimpeachable integrity, the NEC of November 2016 will go down in history as a major milestone for the ANC and South Africa. Contrary to popular belief, the ANC has many tried and tested leaders who have served this country in various capacities and some who left public service without a whiff of scandal. They would be honoured to help return the ANC government to its rightful place.
If that were to happen, perhaps the IFP, Cope and the EFF - all three parties which regard the ANC as their spiritual home – would become obsolete. With their seats in parliament, the ANC would have the numbers needed to bring about real economic freedom in our life time.
It is all up to Zuma, the king of the ANC!