Walter Sisulu’s ethic of selfless leadership underscores a noble persuasion that serving the people remains our central mandate


By: Thulani Binase

It has always been part of the Congress Movement tradition to invoke the revolutionary spirit of its past leaders either through sloganeering about them or quoting what they said when they were still alive.

However, citing past leaders have become so misused now of late. We tend to invoke their ancestral spirits while, in truth, we do so to whip others out of purely promoting a particular narrative. We no longer use such invocation to build our Movement, unite it to pursue creating a better life for all and defend our democratic gains. We are hard at work negating the essence and role of the people in their struggle.

We seem to have adopted a posture that suggests that those entrusted to lead and govern as more powerful than those they lead. We need to revert to the basics where we understood so aptly in the past that “the power of the people is greater than the people in power”. I, therefore, must disclaim that I am not borrowing and using the words of the late Cde Walter Sisulu to whip anyone.

However, I do want us to retreat in his words and ask what happened to the quality of leaders such as Walter Sisulu. Do we understand and appreciate what it meant to our people and struggle to have had leaders such as him. What happened to ethical leadership and is it not urgent for us a movement to restore such leadership at all levels and at all centres of power. Are we not at the crossroads as a movement to discard quantity in exchange for quality with ethics and a heart for the people if the organisational renewal project is to succeed.

As we approach the upcoming local government elections, it would be beneficial not only to our Movement, the ANC but more so to the people if we invoke the spirit of a gentle giant of our revolution and a paragon of ethical leadership, the late Cde Walter Sisulu. Our late leader was emphatic as he was right when he said “the people are our strength. In their service, we shall face and conquer those who live on the backs of our people. In the history of mankind, it is a law of life that problems arise when the conditions are there for their solutions”

As correctly articulated by the late leader of our revolution, material conditions always give rise to inherent solutions to challenges. The question, therefore, is what the Movement is going to do with the answers that stare it in the face in dealing with the challenges at the local government level. We have diagnosed the problem, and we agree that its essence is no quality service delivery or the lack thereof. We have further come to appreciate that to a certain extent, it is also about our failure to deploy the best amongst us in that sphere of government. In describing the local government as being at the coal face of service delivery, we acknowledge that any experience of services delivered or lack thereof will inform the people’s perception about the nature of our government and how they relate with it in the future.

In the Sol Plaatje Municipality, one of the monumental failures for years now that one can cite is the lack of water security and provision to its inhabitants. We are once more subjected to what became a new normal, days with dry taps as the municipality pretends to fix this age-old water problem. This issue of acting to cure the Sol Plaatje water challenges will be what the people will want us to provide, a long-lasting solution as a commitment to local government election time. However, the will to overcome the past is how believable that commitment will be, seeing that experience dictates otherwise as the ANC led municipality has been at it with no lasting solution. What confidence does that give the people if any at all?

Equally important such service delivery experience or lack thereof will also result in a question that seeks to understand whether our Movement is still a people’s organisation and a caring movement. Such a question is justified in the context of our Movement being a governing party and our understanding that the centre of power is the ANC. Being that centre of power would mean that at all times, the ANC will have to act in the interest of the people and not in terms of the popularity contest as advance by factional postures. That alone places on our leadership the greatest of responsibilities to ensure that whoever is deployed at the coal face of service delivery is amongst our best. Their orientation is about being of service to the people. Our identification of a capable cadreship to serve our people at a local government level should transcend our factional baptised nomenclatures.

The Sol Plaatje Municipality’s inability to table and process a Systems Act Section 106 reports since the end of September 2018 constitutes one of the most significant political dereliction of duties and wanton political consciousness that points to lack of political and administrative will. Indeed, it takes no crystal ball medium to know that the section 106 report will be the monkey on the Movement’s back as we approach the local government elections. One must assert that the ANC is a conscientious organisation with a clear track record as a fighter and defender of people’s fundamental human rights.

It, therefore, escapes logic as to why some of its employees will subject others to protracted suspensions, as is the case of the Sol Plaatje Municipal Manager and CFO. In a constitutional democracy, we cannot afford to be indifferent to people’s constitutional rights, I contend.

Based on the recent audit outcomes on the state of municipal finances that points towards regression, our Movement is obligated to ensure that we “face and conquer those who live on the backs of our people”. Those who live on our people’s backs have caused enough social distance between the Movement and the people. Some have failed to stay the course of serving the people.

Local government as a critical sphere of government needs deployees with a myriad of skills. In that context, therefore, we need to find those skills required amongst our deployees. We need to debunk the myth that political deployment even of politicians at the local government level equals deploying a cadreship without the necessary and requisite skills sets required by municipalities. A cadreship with a mix of skill-based is needed to ensure that those institutions are of service to our people. In an effective, efficient and economical way, they stay the course of service delivery to the people. The 54 Conference resolution on nominating public representative acknowledged that we need to make and have a marked departure on our deployees if we are to ensure quality service delivery as it resolved.

– our representatives act as representatives of the people, not only the ANC, and must therefore enjoy good standing in the community.

– ward candidates especially be upstanding citizens and enjoy broad support before being nominated.

As the late Cde Walter Sisulu suggested, the history of democratic rule at a local government level has provided us with problems from the democratic conditions and solutions. As a movement, what will we do with those solutions presented to us by local government misrule and mismanagement? Are we going to pretend that we have not learned anything from democratic local government rule related to the quality of some of our employees both at a political and administrative level? The quality of our freedom is coupled with the type of service delivery experiences our municipalities exposes us to. We will therefore not be amiss to call upon all Democrats to pull up their socks with the wise words of Cde Walter Sisulu as we shout as he did, “it is the job, the task of all democrats, wherever we are located, to advance this idea. That nothing short of full freedom will satisfy us” and we add nothing short of the provision of quality service delivery will satisfy our people.

What is therefore required of the Movement to stay the course of serving our people is that our internal organisational processes need to be resilient in unearthing a cadreship that is more than ready to be servants of the people and act it out, not as it seems to be now by word of mouth but practically with their deeds. Our Movement is immersed with such a cadreship. It would only be without flinching, respect and not undermining the integrity of our organisational processes and systems that we can and should assist us to deploy arsenals that will advance the organisational renewal project, restoring the confidence and trust our people have in the Movement of Cde Walter Sisulu the gentle giant and paragon of ethical leadership. Any vacillating in deploying honourable candidates will only increase the chasm between the ANC and the people.

In staying the course of serving the people, the ANC will need to remain true to its convictions. The ANC must show respect and be loyal at all times to the people. The ANC needs to be truthful to its organisational processes and not undermine their integrity. In staying the course, the ANC must always choose the people above any other glory. At the funeral of Cde Walter Sisulu, Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu uttered the following ” I want to declare loud and clear that after a life so exemplary, so inspiring, we are filled with deep thankfulness. We have come to celebrate a wonderful life poured out so unselfishly on behalf of others”. Will such be said about some of us when we are no more? The proverbial jury remains out, and it shall be recorded one day as to who was always on the side of the people.

Cde Walter Sisulu, you told us that “there are no shortcuts. There are no easy answers. There are no complete formulas. Only continuous campaigning among the people, with a continuous response to their activities, taking them a step forward each time, can lead us to our goal”. We must by natural distend attract capable men and women to rescue our municipalities and better serve our people. We must stay the course. Can we stay the course of serving the people and desist the temptation to have the people serve us.

Adv Thulani Binase
Writing in his personal capacity.
[ANC member, Former ANC Youth League Northern Cape Provincial Chairperson, Former ANC Frances Baard Regional Chairperson, Former member of the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature and served as party whip, portfolio committee Chairperson and SCOPA Chairperson]

Edited by Clyde N.S. Ramalaine