NOTHING screams “we have run out of credible leaders” louder than the African National Congress’s (ANC’s) choice of the 81-year-old Ben Fihla as mayoral candidate for the Port Elizabeth metropolitan area.
The choice of Mr Fihla, and the rationale for changing mayors, explains the ANC’s dire situation in that city. It is no longer capable of producing fresh and capable leaders who can run cities better than the opposition and provide strong political leadership.
When it returned from exile, the ANC had many credible leaders and technocrats who inspired confidence that they could govern if they were elected. Leaders such as Thabo Mbeki matured in a tradition of training up-and-coming leaders on the assumption that the ANC would eventually get into power. The resistance movement and Robben Island “university” produced competent politicians who were well grounded in the ANC’s values.
However, developments in Port Elizabeth are symptoms of a problem in many other towns where the ANC has ruled since 1994 — the leaders of old are no more, and members no longer espouse the party’s traditional values.
Luthuli House has moved to intervene in Port Elizabeth, telling the warring duo of chairman Nceba Faku and mayor Zanoxolo Wayile to resign. This is no bad thing in itself; their political squabbling has gone on for far too long, discrediting the ANC and preventing the municipality from delivering on its mandate. But it does not begin to deal with the cause: that the party is festering at the core, creating an environment in which rogue politicians rise to the top.
In its desperation, the ANC has called on Mr Fihla, an MP and struggle veteran who once mentored youth activists, in the hope that he can reintroduce some of the old values. Port Elizabeth was a centre of youth-driven activism during apartheid, but things have changed — many of the most prominent young activists of the time, such as Mkhuseli Jack and Saki Macozoma, are disillusioned and no longer identify with the ANC.
Mr Fihla has his work cut out for him, and sending an elder to run a dysfunctional but still modern municipality in the Eastern Cape’s economic hub is a high-risk gamble that may well come back to haunt the ANC in the next local government elections in 2016.