Great leaders know when to quit. When Nelson Mandela decided to quit active politics, most people felt it was premature and also feared that the reconciliatory tone would fizzle and retire with him. His unconditional exit allowed former president Thabo Mbeki to take over the ANC’s reigns without any political debt to Mandela. That enabled Mbeki to set his tone which defined his African renascence agenda without looking over his shoulders. Even his eventual recall from the presidency went graciously. Contrary to his successor president JG Zuma is a classic example of what happens when leaders don’t know when to quit. The last electoral setbacks were also not persuasive enough for him to relinquish power. Is clear the man wants to finish his term by 2019 at all costs. Such leaders are prepared to hang onto power even if it means collapsing their legacies and organizations.

‘‘Never interfere with an enemy while he’s in the process of destroying himself”. Despite this advice from Napoleon Bonaparte, the opposition have no choice but to interfere with Zuma dealings and ANC’s self-distraction because of its impact on the country. In the process, score political points whilst the ANC ageless leaders looks confused. Is possible the president is digging his heels to avoid being dragged to the courts. Deliberately overstaying to save himself at the expense of the ANC. Or, prolonging his reign to quench his acquaintances looting appetite.

Not to be outdone by the ANC, the DA’s colonialism scandals are also born by the fact that Helen Zille does not know when to quit. Whilst the DA is shouting at Zuma to go, the ANC is also pointing a figure at the colonialist Zille to go. Had Zille knew when to quit, and let young leaders like Lindiwe Mazibuko be themselves, the DA would be solely focussed on winning new votes than fending of racist colonialist accusations. The signs were there when she started fighting with younger leaders who tried to unshackle themselves from her. Lindiwe Mazibuko is the perfect example of toxic perpetual mentorship. Unlike Lindiwe, Mmusi Maimane is in a perfect position to fight his everlasting mentorship and to establish his leadership style. The colonization scandal wherein Hellen Zille was stripped of all party’s duties is a positive start and a sign that Mmusi Maimane nonetheless becoming his own.

The challenge with overstaying leaders is their loyal following who are prepared to leave with them when expelled. They become larger than their parties. Zuma like Zille, have a huge following within their parties. Expelling them for any indiscretions could result in mass exodus of members. On the other side, one man smaller parties like the IFP, UDM, and ACDP can have life time leaders and get away with it. They will remain small and die with their leaders. Hopefully, the EFF will learn from this and avoid recycling the same leaders which blocks the natural emergence of new ideas and progress. 

Leadership recycling dangers. Insanity, is when the same leaders are elected, recycled over and over again and expected to change for the better. One of the reasons cited by Zuma in his latest controversial reshuffling move was the need to infuse young leaders. This is a nobble idea when done genuinely. For progressive sake, young leaders should be constantly placed in leadership position not as a favor but to reinvigorate the party’s ideas and energy. As for the ANC, the lack of retirement appetite from its leaders is their biggest hindrance for their quest to self-correct and self-critic. Firstly, overstaying leaders diminishes space for new leaders to emerge organically without any debt of political loyalty. For instance, Melusi Gigaba is not viewed through his leadership qualities lenses, but on how Zuma is using him. Recycling and overstaying of leaders makes younger leaders political extensions of some elder leaders. It also diminishes space for younger leaders to come with their views but only articulate the views of their handlers. Secondly, overstaying of leaders creates toxic political inbreeding through their political power and wealth amassed over the years. It promotes sameness and destroy organizational discipline and protocol. Basically, it means everyone must follow the line of a never retiring leader. Open minded young people are seen as ill-discipline and even expelled as Malema can attest. Loyalty is rewarded with deployment, political power, patronage and protection. Any differing view is simple rejected. If the ANC and other political organizations were to set a retirement age of 60, most of their problems will be resolved. Until then, we will continue to depend on ailment or death to retire our leaders.  

It will seem absolute power not only corrupts absolutely but is also addictive. Senegal’s former President Abdoulaye Wade, well in his nineties, is still immersed in Senegal politics. Mugabe, in his 90’s is still governing. Current ANC front presidential runners Cyril Ramaphosa, Lindiwe Sisulu, Mathews Phosa and Nkosazana Zuma are all approaching their seventies. These are leaders who should be preparing their late retirement plans but instead they continue to immerse themselves with hectic leadership activities. Encouragingly, younger leaders are emerging across the globeFrom France Emmanuel Macron, Canadian Justin Pierre James Trudeau and Leo Varadkar Prime Minister of Ireland, are all well under 50 years of age. Hopefully, the ANCYL will learn from this and allow older people to retire in piece

By Sivodlo Silombo

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are of sole responsibility of the author(s). The will not be responsible for any inaccurate or incorrect statement in this article.

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