The political analyst and journalist on land, the need for real leadership and the brilliance of the new generation
AS young children in Idutywa in the Eastern Cape, businessman and political analyst Moeletsi Mbeki and his brother, former president Thabo Mbeki, found themselves looking up into the framed faces of Karl Marx and Mahatma Gandhi on the family mantelpiece. With their father, Govan, and mother, Epainette, politically active in the ANC and South African Communist Party, it was inevitable that both boys’ lives would be formed around politics. But the life of a politician wasn’t for Moeletsi — for him analysing our rich political landscape is what rocks his world.
What you teach your children forms their lives. We were surrounded by books growing up. I remember trying to read my first novel about sailors and boat operators on the Volga River in Russia. It was a complete mystery to me, coming from a village in the Eastern Cape trying to imagine this vast river. My parents owned a store and as my father was the Eastern Cape editor of the New Age, a left-wing newspaper, we not only sold it but read it. We worked in the shop, which I liked, but when my mother would call us to help in the garden I didn’t enjoy that as much.
I wanted to help grow the country, I just didn’t know how. When I left school I wanted to do civil engineering. Growing up in the 1950s I saw the huge changes that were happening in Africa and dreamt of building new roads and bridges. But I c o u l d n’t stay away from politics and economics and the route for me then became journalism.
Social and economic problems exist in many countries. We tend to think our problems here are unique. When I was studying for my MA in England in the ’80s, I learnt a lot about the rest of the world. There were students from all over Africa involved in organising against various causes, including apartheid, and I was right there with them. I looked at colonialism, which was bad for us in the receiving end, but I realised the British had also been colonised, first by the Romans and then a host of other countries, including the French. The reality is that land everywhere is owned by minorities — minorities with the most power and weapons.
The only way out of poverty is solid, powerful leadership. In a follow-up book to Architects of Power I was asked to edit Advocates for Change, focusing on the solutions to Africa and South Africa’s problems. The big issue is leadership, which is missing in South Africa today. The ANC, except for a brief period in the 1940s and 1950s, have been followers. The fact they didn’t lead was one of their weaknesses. When Julius Malema tells people if they own the gold mine they will be extremely wealthy, yes of course they would. But there are a lot of steps before you can become wealthy. He’s not leading, he’s just seeing which way the wind blows and amplifying that. This is one of South A f r i c a’s major problems. You need solutions, the capacity to innovate, the ability to implement by mobilising the required resources and the capability to create followers. Right now the ANC are following the followers.
What makes a great leader? Nelson Mandela was a great leader because he identified that Africans were moving from rural to urban areas early on, so he fo c u s e d on Johannesburg, where the population was going. That was innovation. He spent 27 years in prison and realised while there that the National Party had hit a cul-de-sac, and so offered them a way out. The ANC told him he was a sell-out, a traitor. He said, in The Long Walk to Freedom: “There are times when a leader must move out ahead of the flock — go off in a new direction, confident that he is leading his people the right way.” We need that now.
We must wake up and see the future. What we have now is Jacob Zuma and Julius Malema following what they perceive to be the lowest common denominator — that’s not leadership — that’s followership! COPE is no better. They have no policy. People suggested I run as their leader, but I’m a political analyst not a politician. COPE thought they could do ANC policies a bit better, economic empowerment a bit better. But if the policies are flawed, you need to come up with new policies. COPE is a clone of the ANC.
We must harness the brilliance of our youth. In my capacity as political analyst for Nedbank I talk to young asset managers of all colours. I’m very optimistic about this generation. I know that Jacob Zuma is not a leader, nor is Julius Malema. But these emerging young people are focused, educated and, above all, are not preoccupied with race issues. Look at the DA ’s Lindiwe Mazibuko — she has passion coupled with great intelligence.
All South Africans need to become proud citizens. After the Fifa World Cup, everyone was asking: “How do you bottle that feeling, that unity?” Sadly, you can’t. Those moments fade. Again, you need a leader to keep it going. When you’re in China you notice a level of confidence. Everything works smoothly and there’s a disciplined pride in being Chinese. The same applies in the US. Immigrants have to learn English and read “how to” books such as, “how to cook a hamburger”. They become proud Americans. We need that.
Life is too short to waste a second. I'm often asked about hobbies and people are surprised when I say my work is my hobby. Ask what I’m reading and it’s books on politics and world economies. This is what I love.
Advocates for Change: How to Overcome Af rica’s Challenges is published by Picador Africa, R225