Is the recent praxis of a two term SA presidency a goner?

Will we ever again have in SA another two-term president? – I think not so-

The ANC in Gauteng is on record for having intimated that the long on and off debate of two centers of power be allowed for in ANC and National President context. I hold no brief for the Gauteng ANC and sees this as a knee-jerked and expeditiously politically attempt at influencing the much made of 2012 elective conference.


I am rather concerned with what sits behind the issue that the two-term presidency in RSA presidency is a thing of the past. Anyone that has ever held power will attest that the cudgels of power leaves one intoxicated to think that season must never cease. Often those who come to power fail to appreciate that before them others were.


Yet understanding political power is to understand the economic nature and context of such. Our recent democracy confirms the fact that Nelson Mandela was the only president who for whatever reason was willing to serve one term.

There are off cause those who argue that he never ran the country but held a “chairmanship” of office in which his deputy Thabo Mbeki was given free reign to set the tone for his day in the sunshine and the helm of power defined in SA presidency.


Mbeki in the Mandela era made his famous “I am an African” speech. He did this due to the pragmatism of a Mandela who was much more comfortable to be the “reconciliation champion of the 20th Century”. Mandela was satisfied to have been the first democratic president known for his now well-publicized and recorded legacy of reconciling SA.


We still await with bated breath the claimed mumbled to be published “memoirs” of a Jakes Gerwel who it is said will lift the lid of the future of the ANC under a Mbeki as shared by Mandela.


Mbeki who served two terms beside what some claim as half if not all of the Mandela era, when he came to the end of such proved reluctant to move on, though he could not serve unless by Constitutional amendment.

Off course we are dealing here only with the SA presidency and not the ANC presidency. A whole different set of rules applies for ANC presidency, in the ANC context one may serve consecutively for multiple terms.

It is therefore that same dictum that rightfully enabled an Mbeki  in 2007 to claim as he did, “I stood because there was a nomination”. The precedent is in SA under a multiparty democracy the ruling party president automatically becomes the SA president. Hence if Mbeki wanted to serve again as ANC president the need to split or create two centres of power would have to be the order of the day.


To now hear the Gauteng ANC leadership asks for the two centre of power notion to be revived is to find meaning in the known saying “history repeats itself the first time in a farce the second time in tragedy”. For we have been down this road before.


No matter how powerful and dynamic even prolific an ANC presidency was in exile or since inception nothing compares to it when it is combined to the power of SA presidency. In recent days many have called on for what I term expedient reasons the legacy of a Tambo, Nokwe and other well decorated ANC leaders yet I argue you simply cannot compare those leaderships with that of a ruling party which began in Mandela.


ANC presidents prior to our democracy led a movement who had no statutory power in a liberation struggle where the enemy was apartheid. These leaderships were free from the accompanying accoutrements of money or wealth as a tool and means to rule. Therefore a separation must be made between ANC leadership prior to democracy and those who are in democracy context. To argue for a distinction of leadership is not to argue values as a standard, but to argue praxis in a complete different set of circumstances.


We can best compare those who served in democracy to each other hence we shall for long while compare a Mandela to an Mbeki, a Mbeki to a Zuma and so we will continue as time goes on. For none of the serving presidents derive any meaning devoid of comparison to each other not in necessarily chronological but rather interactive manner.


I am afraid Xolela Mangcu the comparison of a Mbeki and Zuma is far from over and we can expect many doctoral thesis’ on these two in domestic and foreign policy context, in organisational and country context, in style and approach in successes and failures.


This call for the separation of power in organizational and country context is what begs the question why? What really sits behind the call for such and therefore warrants the mistrust in sitting presidents first experienced in an Mbeki presidency and now again under a Zuma swiftly becoming almost normal as our collective future. It would appear that no future president of ANC making would have a comfortable if at all possibility of a second term.


At the risk of speculating I shall argue the possible reason for such claim, emanates from nothing but the perceived proximity of direct “economic power” that such SA presidency affords its incumbent. Perhaps not for the president himself but for those whom he associates himself with, from hence the notion for him.


In SA with us being recently freed and the history of black poverty combined with an avarice of some, the office of the SA presidency is a lucrative place and position to dictate, design and develop economic opportunities for cronies, associates, even family.


Let us not forget that the breed of new black billionaires, at least the majority of them who 15 years ago had others pay for their children school fees were created by noting but “political connections”.


If entrepreneurship has a definition it must be cognizant of a ‘product’ called political connections for, as a commodity it’s stock value is extremely high. I dare say, and some detest me for saying it, that most of the current black elite are not natural entrepreneurs or business people but have made their billions out of that connectedness, having served in offices be such political / cabinet and SOE boards where the opportunities of business and it’s inviting wealth are very possible if not tantalizing aided by a BEE policy articulation that necessitated “white capital ” to find partners to justify it’s cohesive existence. Why then not find the right kind of black partner given as the politically connected one? For these bring the proverbial “ham” home and due to proximity holds the hope a presidential encounter.


This started under the Mandela administration and matured under the Mbeki era in full bloom for his two terms allowed for this. The Mbeki era in some ways were also considered a time of family manifested in cabinet context it was not strange to find husband and wife teams serving cabinet ministers. Many of the now claimed black billionaires owe there existence or right to claim such status to a Mbeki, perhaps that explains the reluctance when he had to move on by recall as we no historically know. It was said then that SA was run from the London Club of inner circle friends.


We cannot really speak of the brief Motlanthe 7month seat-warming era. Suffice to say, we await a Motlanthe presidency be it as mooted post 2014 or later to confirm the notion or challenge such.


In the Zuma era again the issue of family benefitting from a sitting presidency was reported on with many claims of nepotism and selling out of SA to a cohort of Chinese and Indian- Gupta making. Let us not forget the Aurora controversies and the many implied claims of enrichment leveled by some against this presidency no different to an Mbeki presidency where some were guaranteed access to opportunities of wealth creation.


The newspapers were filled with the claims of systemic corruption. These claims found unison chorus in some organized labour personalities. Quickly the issue was changed as led by the combo of SACP and COSATU leaders who coined the term “tenderpreneurship” with an ethos of “crass materialism”. The knives were drawn and the proverbial guns loaded as some began to drum up support for the idea that the ANC is invaded by a group of people who is hell-bent on crass materialism who parade as kamikaze saviors of the poor but really are the enemies of democracy and the national democratic revolution therefore charlatans that need to be exposed.


These found willing partners in all sectors but particular those who made their money under an Mbeki two and a half term era. These equally began to pontificate the meridian of wealth creation using them as the maximum symbol. Yet these either suffer of selective amnesia or is simply stubborn to admit their closeness to a presidency and their connectedness to power exemplified in an ANC president who also served as Country president delivered their wealth since political connectedness is a lucrative commodity that trades well.


George Ainstworthland the known business guru says “for any business to thrive it needs a certain prevailing ideology, for as long as the ideology lives the business will thrive yet as soon as the ideology exemplified in people change the business takes a dip”.


The truth is this business observation is real in SA for those who amass their billions under Mbeki with his departure found the environment ultra hostile and very business unusual. Many of these were part of the formation of COPE who had nothing to do with protecting a constitution that was never under threat but their hero under whom they made their proverbial bacon.

We are now a year away from the much-publicised Mangaung Elective conference in which the noises are beginning to be made by those who feel hard done by this Zuma presidency that did not deliver their bacon for them too. These now have asked that the Deputy President be made president of RSA. The truth is this call has nothing to do with the ANC presidency in and of itself for such office guarantees nobody anything.


It is only when such office is given the face of a RSA president that such presidency becomes exceptionally lucrative. Which leads me to conclude the election of ANC presidents in post apartheid context means nothing outside such is combined with the RSA presidency.


I find this the reason why there will never be a two term president for such automatically means that one who reaches that will serve a two term period of SA presidency provided the current situation prevails. This practically means an opportunity to empower his /her own economically.


So at the heart of the elections for ANC presidency is the hidden yet glaring assumption of economic carrot-stick dangling by him who sits on the throne? Hence the dictum of “kingmaker” status afforded to a combo of ANCYL and Women’s League in electing the ANC president.


This observation leads one to ask when and how did the power of economic empowerment as a tool by the ANC presidency who is also a RSA president become real and was cast in a mold as our now accepted norm. I am afraid all roads lead back to Mbeki, for it is under him and in his two terms that the product value of such was first realized and found meaning. This is no cheap defamatory wild claim but a quest to know the relationship between political power and economic power where the margins of error are tight and the constituencies forever soluble and the tides fluctuate.


Economic power or a perception of such as a possibility for those who have less been empowered and those who have had to join the line at the back when they were previously front rowers constitutes the primary reason why we will never again have a two term ANC and RSA president. Hence the call of some for two centers of power as the way forward.


This is not a new call for it was the same call that gave rise to a Polokwane 2007. Lest we forget the Mbeki address at GIBS where he in the dying days of his presidency he toyed with the idea that the people of SA must decide who should lead them. Barney Pityana and Desmond Tutu echoed this chorus when they in 2008 called for constitutional amendments that would facilitate SA to be led by whomever it deems fit and not a party president.


Yet I shall ask what should be the ethos for electing an ANC president in my books the history of the ANC dictate it must be leadership for the people in servant hood it never can and must be for what it can bring some constituencies in monetary terms. For if the latter holds, we will never see another president serving two terms for there will always be a constituency who feel aggrieved rightfully or wrongfully to mobilise for the substitution of a sitting SA president when money or the access of such is the barometer for judging presidents.


Respectfully submitted


Clyde N.S Ramalaine


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