Taking on the mantle of power with a cast of unsavoury characters


Newly elected African National Congress top six

By: Sithembile Mbete. 

JOHANNESBURG - In my first year politics course at UCT we were taught that power, authority, and legitimacy were the core concepts of politics.

Harold Lasswell defined politics as who gets what, when, and how. Power, the ability to influence or control the behaviour of others, is critical to this process.

I have been musing over these concepts while covering the ANC&39;s 54th elective conference. As I said repeatedly on eNCA, Jacob Zuma understands power. And he has used multiple tools of coercion, primarily the security agencies, to entrench his control over the ANC over the past ten years. However, the deliberations this past week reflected the party&39;s concern with the decline of the ANC&39;s authority and legitimacy.

READ: Ramaphosa emerges victorious

Authority is the right to exercise power. Legitimacy is the acceptance of that right by others. As Africa&39;s oldest liberation movement, the ANC grew to be the legitimate representation of the hopes and ambitions of black South Africans. This enabled it to access state power and exert it&39;s authority in government. The overwhelming faith of ordinary people in the ANC and their interest in it&39;s fortunes is rare in global politics.

Many foreign journalists this week asked me to explain the ANC&39;s hold over our society. I pointed them to the words of Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe in an interview with Gail Gerhart in August 1970:

"It was hard to fight an established organisation like the ANC... Being up against the ANC was like being up against a church. It was like a religion to it&39;s followers. Your father had belonged, so you belonged... It had the tradition and aura of a church".

In his closing address, ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa evoked the ANC&39;s church-like aura. He referred repeatedly to the party as an organisation that listens "to the aspirations, hopes, wishes, cries, and concerns of our people."

Ramaphosa has taken on the mantle of power with a cast of unsavoury characters, including DD Mabuza and Ace Magashule. But the lesson of the past ten years is to stop romanticising our leaders. They are only politicians after all. Even the great OR Tambo had his Joe Modise. Ramaphosa said "we are resolved to respect our people and to earn their respect". I for one intend to hold him to that.

Sithembile Mbete is a political analyst and lecturer at the University of Pretoria. She was involved in the drafting the National Development Plan (NDP) and worked for the Right2Know campaign.