Repositioning Intellectuals in the African National Congress – by Professor Muxe Nkondo
Speaking, listening, writing and reading in the ANC is aimed at a certain relationship between what we say to each other about issues central to the organisation and the country, and about the matrix of ideas that shape our deliberations and actions. They are acts of mutual recognition, of understanding and knowing each other again and again in a dynamic world within a complex system of logics.
By Professor Muxe Nkondo; Chairperson of Rixaka Forum and Collins Chabane Foundations
An edited version of a presentation at the ANC Professionals Academic and Business Manifesto Dialogue, Zone 14, Fourways, Johannesburg
The role of intellectuals in the African National Congress means the capacity of members possessing highly developed intellect to direct thought and action and energise the willingness of members to achieve the organisation’s goals. This idea implies legitimate authority. The notion of intellectual leadership has a long history in the African National Congress. Transformative ideas are at the heart of what makes things happen in revolutionary movements
- Conceptions of Intellectual Leadership in Liberation Movements
Let’s briefly review the conceptions of intellectual leadership that represent landmarks in political discourse.
Firstly, the focus has mainly been on identification of traits or attributes that ensure exceptional intellectual capabilities. According to this approach, intellectual leadership is intrinsic to certain individuals – it is not the result only of learning or socialisation. Although this approach can help us identify a vast array of traits exhibited by intellectuals, it is difficult to establish a constant set of findings across intellectuals since the establishment of the ANC in 1912. (Sol Plaatjie, Albert Luthuli, PrixleySeme, Anton Lembede, Moses Kotane, Nelson Mandela, OR Tambo, Walter and Albertina Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada, Thabo Mbeki, Cyril Ramaphosa, KgalemaMotlanthe, Jacob Zuma, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Chris Hani, Mac Maharaj, Fatima Meer, Archie Mafeje, Ben Magubane, Sam Nolutshungu, Curtis Nkondo, Tito Mboweni, David Makhura, Joel Netshitendze, Barbara Masekela, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Edna Molewa, Lindiwe Sisulu, BalekaMbete, SankieMahanyale-Mthembu, Olive Shisana, KeorapetseKgositsile, Wally Serote, Zinjiva Nkondo, Mandla Langa, Thami Miyele, Joe Slovo, George Mashamba, Jeremy Cronin, E’skiaMphahlele, Albie Sachs, Jakes Gerwel, Allan Boesak, Brigalia Bam, Barney Pitjana, William Gumede, Collin Bundy, Moeletsi Mbeki, Tembeka Ngcukaitobi to mention only a few)
Secondly, the emphasis on intellectual leadership as the ability to relate the ANC as an organisation to its dynamic environment (strategy and tactics leadership),rather than the more internally oriented focus associated with the traits approach. Thirdly, requiring careful attention, emphasises not the attributes of individuals, but their behaviour in organisational structural and collaborative settings. This approach calls for the use of questionnaires to inquire about the perceptions that members of the ANChave of the intellectuals. However, the rigour of this approach is questionable. Its theoretical approach and lack of consideration for different contexts for the exercise of intellectual leadership. The leadership approach that has emerged recently is a conception of the intellectual as someone who defines the reality in which the ANC functions, through the articulation of visions derived from organisational policy documents.
Thus, an emerging approach is underpinned by a definition of intellectuals as managers of meaning as well as influence process. The conception recalls Max Weber’s work on charisma. Intellectual leadership, in this sense, is a process of institutionalising meaning to infuse with value beyond the strategic and tactical requirements of the task at hand. This approach is well illustrated in O.R. Tambo Speaks and Mandela’s A Long Walk to Freedom.
In more concrete terms, a transformative intellectual leader is a model for others in the ANC, provides a plausible and attractive vision of the organisation’s future, fosters a more reflexive approach to practises and current ways of organising and decision making, and is able to pay attention to detail. This type of intellectual leadership is opposed to transactional leadership based on the contingent reward and managerial process that pays attention to opportunities with a view to improving or adjusting the behaviour of members of the ANC. In this sense, intellectual leadership amplifies transactional leadership.
Recent debates on the role of intellectuals in the ANC devote more attention to leadership and fundamental change than previous conceptions. However, the emphasis on intellectuals in the ANC has its own limits.
The intellectual leadership perspective does not take account of the informal and complex dynamics that are a basis to achieve influence and sustain legitimacy. This perspective- ‘dispersed intellectual leadership’ – fosters a more processual approach to intellectual leadership. Such a perspective pays more attention to how intellectual leadership emerges in concrete social organisational settings and to interactions between organisational context and intellectual capabilities. Intellectual leadership is considered less as an attribute of single individuals but more as a collective process while individual intellectuals negotiate their position with respect to others in more unpredictable ways than a rational view of the ANC as an organisation would suggest. This more collective and processual perspective on intellectual leadership forms the basis of my own thinking (Denis et al, 2005).
- Intellectual Leadership in the Management of the ANC: Critical Considerations
- As indicated earlier, the notion of an intellectual is generally associated with the image of a highly knowledgeable, independent, and influential individual who determines the direction of her or his organisation. This description is obviously simplistic. Intellectuals in the ANC rarely have undisputed sway over members or unlimited influence to determine policy and strategic orientation.
In fact, the ANC can safely be described as historically pluralistic in nature as it is characterised by multiple objectives and diffused power structures. Because of the knowledge economy and evolving nature of social and economic problems, the ANC is becoming more and more involved in complex networks, particularly as ‘a broad church’ of multiple and at times divergent interests. The situation of increased pluralism represents complex problems for would-be intellectuals in the ANC. When purposes are multiple and complex, ordinary notions of intellectual power and influence become problematic.
Furthermore, the ANC in our electoral democracy operates through a complex web of rules, procedures, and codes. This proliferation of regulatory processes, applied today in a context of scarce resources and public distemper, both constrains and enables the intellectuals who are charged with generating and applying innovative ideas.
- Given the complex organisational context of diffuse power, multiple objectives, and, now, factional behaviour, the central dilemma of intellectuals is suggested in the following question: Can intellectuals intervene proactively or not in the organisation? Two contrasting views of intellectual leadership can be identified from current debates: an ‘entrepreneurial’ view and a ‘stewardship’ view. These two views hold different assumptions about the legitimacy of intellectual leadership in the ANC.
- The ‘entrepreneurial view’ focuses on the innovate behaviour of intellectuals in the ANC. It emphasises increased attention by intellectuals to demands of the current environment and, at times, to preferences of various groups and factions. According to this model, part of the achievement of the ANC’s policies and programs depends on the creativity and dynamism of entrepreneurial intellectuals who do not feel constrained by the weight of tradition.
The ‘entrepreneurial view’ is close to the model of transformative leadership so much in the air today. The feasibility of this model is highly contingent on the nature of the relationship between intellectuals and the general membership of the ANC. Intellectuals have to value and strive for increased accountability regarding decision processes in the organisation. The mechanisms by which such accountability and trust can be secured, are a major consideration in the evolution of intellectual leadership practice in the ANC.
- The contrasting ‘stewardship view’ takes a much more conservative stance on the role of intellectuals seen as guardians of public goods and values. Their legitimacy comes from their conformity to wishes of members. The ANC policy conference decides on policies and the overarching goals of the organisation. Policies are not decided at a superior level. Intellectual stewardship is seen as a positive value that guarantees the continuity of the ANC as an organisation and its policies. In this view, intellectual power is appreciated only as long as it contributes to the maintenance of the ANC’s core values of public service that legitimise its policies.
- Thus the issue of intellectual leadership in the ANC easily gives rise to a deep debate. On the one hand, proponents of the entrepreneurial mode insist that intellectuals can and should be encouraged to intervene dynamically to transform the state and society using conceptions of intellectual and strategic leadership derived from liberation politics. On the other hand, proponents of the stewardship model remain preoccupied with issues of increased accountability, efficiency, and effectiveness. A realistic picture of intellectual leadership in the ANC probably falls between these two poles.
In the ANC, values and normative pressures play a critical role in the assessment of the legitimacy of decisions and actions. Intense political pressures and vocal on-the-ground structures place intellectuals in a situation of constant negotiations. The alignment of these different sets of pressures and obligations with needs to improve the delivery of services, implies that the role of intellectuals is particularly complex. Perhaps, the entrepreneurial and stewardship models of intellectual leadership do not tell us much about the processes that may contribute to achieving public integrity, service effectiveness and fundamental change in such contexts (Borins, 2002, Redford, 1969).
- A multidimensional Perspective on Intellectual Leadership in the ANC
Careful reading of works on ANC’s iconic figures yields a complex of critical insights.
Because of the complexity of powers in the ANC, it is important to situate intellectual leadership dynamically or focus on the specific actions of individual intellectuals. So far, the emphasis has usually been on isolated individuals in formal leadership positions. Hence, the need to focus on skills and processes that may or may not always reside in formally designated intellectual leaders. Greater emphasis need to be placed on the complex emergent activity which is dispersed throughout the entire political and organisational context and its effects over time. To this end, a perspective founded upon five theoretical frameworks is proposed.
The five fundamental frameworks have been chosen because they appear particularly relevant to the context in which the ANC operates, characterised by official powers, complex values, multiple objectives, and an intricate system of rules and regulations. To question these frameworks, the ANC is invited to pay greater attention to how intellectual leadership is sustained through networks, how it is negotiated among members with divergent views and how it is constituted through daily practice.
Networking is becoming more and more recognised as a key characteristic of effective intellectuals. Network intellectual leadership refers to the ability of individual intellectuals to establish direct and indirect communication patterns of influence. However, networking is not exclusively an inability to negotiate interpersonal skills and make contact with members of the ANC. In an organisation as old and as large as the ANC, where power is diffused or dispersed, success or failure of intellectual leadership processes depends, among other things, on the capacity of intellectuals to constitute and maintain strong and durable network.
Intellectuals in the ANC must not only deal with dispersed power. They also face the challenge of shaping informed decisions in a context of multiple and complex objectives. They at times deal with members belonging to different ideological persuasions in ‘the broad church’ and supporting divergent viewpoints, interests, and values. A successful intellectual will therefore have to incorporate a variety of logics or rationalities into organisational strategies and tactics which will be legitimate as long as they advance the ordering of multiple logics acceptable for the various groups and factions. Put another way, interacting with members supporting different logics and actions necessitates finding a way to articulate appropriate and valuable collaborative assessments that reconcile competing values and interests.
In ‘the broad church’, there are at least six constitutive frameworks that structure leadership generally – the inspirational, domestic, reputational, civic, market, and industrial.
The ‘inspirational’ framework refers to the impassioned vision and creative imagination of the intellectual. The ‘domestic’ is a framework of tradition within the ANC ruled by the principles of loyalty and respect of the authority based on assigned duties and responsibilities among members of the ANC. The ‘reputational’ framework values the achievement of members. The ‘civic’ framework values the organisational duties and the suppression of particular interests in the pursuit of the common good. The ‘market’ framework is driven by the financial interests of competing factions who take part in certain activities in order to achieve their personal or factional goals. Then, finally, the ‘industrial’ framework, driven by the search for greater efficiency and effectiveness. Because intellectuals in the ANC do not always function in similar frameworks and because an intellectual may identify with multiple frameworks, the invention and negotiation of consensus becomes critical to ensure coordination and cooperation.
Consensus is an artefact that crystallises the compromise between various logics and is of specific interest in the work of the ANC. Thus, an effective intellectual will demonstrate his or her virtuosity in competencies that are viewed appropriate with respect to different frameworks within the ANC. A successful intellectual in the ANC must be able to make appropriate readings of the organisational order because the analysis of prevalent values in ‘the broad church’ is critical to reduce the potential for open conflict or protected factional battles. Specific organisational devices (committees, branches, wards, zones, provincial andnational structures, leagues, and so on) may help him or her to achieve compromises between the different political values and political positions while legitimising his or her own status as an intellectual. It is a tall order.
From this perspective, a successful intellectual will be someone who is able to navigate with credibility between different frameworks and also someone who is bale to represent the incarnation of the fundamental values with which members identify. When the competing interests of different groups and factions are intense, as they seem to be presently, one approach to intellectual leadership may involve co-intellectual leaders who individually represent different worlds but can bridge their differences at the personal level within ‘the ANC family’ or domestic framework.
The intellectual, in the ANC family, can also be conceived as an organic critic. The role of the organic critic is central in the ANC’s self-understanding in South African history and the world.
In fact, it is only by explicitly contesting dominant or emergent logics that intellectuals within the ANC can secure an influential role in decision processes. In this sense, the intellectual is someone who through his or her personal association with highly valued networks within the ANC is able to open up and renegotiate established positions leading to enhanced organisational and personal legitimacy. Without intellectual self-understanding, transformation will take place according to previous arrangements among different groups and factions. Organic critics question the normative assumptions behind current policies and practices and may help in fostering radical rethinking and fundamental change.
The ANC as ‘a broad church’ is not permeated only by diffuse power and divergent interests. It also has to deal with a complex system of rules and procedures which require members who work with a considerate amount of expertise and informal knowledge. But at times change in the ANC often takes place through how political leaders and executives exert their discretionary power as they apply rules and regulations on a daily basis.
Moreover, the ANC is largely dependent on members and their explicit and tacit knowledge. It is not unusual to observe a mismatch in the ANC decision structures between intellectuals or experts and the realities of people on the ground. A successful intellectual in the ANC will, therefore, need to bridge this gap. In order to do so, intellectuals need to know how to navigate the contradictions between cognitive and discursive levels, how to manoeuvre among multiple discourses and decisions within structures of the ANC. Integration of knowledge derived from formal learning processes and tacit knowledge gained through experience, is crucial. Intellectuals need to be skilled deliberative facilitators within the complex web of inclusive decision processes.
Mobilising all knowledges – formal and tacit – successfully implies being able to catch the larger picture emanating from lived experience and daily encounters. Having a broader vision of how things are working or not working in the ANC, successful intellectuals try to pattern the attention of fellow intellectuals, the executives, and the general membership through subtle deliberation and meaningful micro-acts concerning the changes in South African society, Africa, and the world, and the interpretation of the dynamics of change. They also have the responsibility to routinely use analytic tools and concepts, to co-construct meaningful explanations of change, challenges, opportunities, and crisis. As competent thought and change agents, intellectuals should acquire a deep understanding of the dynamics of internal and external forces with whom they are interacting. They have to deploy expertise knowledge, deliberative abilities, organisational knowledge, emotional intelligence, and so forth in an appropriate way and at the right time to influence decision. In sum, intellectual leadership in the ANC is, in some way, a mundane activity requiring practical experience, timing and social awareness that is more adaptable to the needs of members in the broad church.
For effective inclusive deliberation and communication, we should examine indepth what are the implications in relation to language, culture and power within the ANC and greater South Africa.
First, if power in ‘the broad church’ is not concentrated in a single place, such as executive committees, but is, instead ubiquitous, at once visible and invisible, present and hidden, we cannot focus mainly on intellectuals or think-tanks meditating on the state of the nation or the African condition, but should rather focus on a multiplicity of nodal points and/or relations in which power is exercised. Second, if power ‘in the broad church’ is not a thing or a substance, but rather a network of relations, it means that power in the ANC is also exercised in a myriad of social encounters.
It is then of greatest interest to examine the languages through which power and knowledge are mediated in deliberations and decisions processes. The focus on language in decision and deliberation processes uncovers how power in the ANC and South African society reaches into the very grain of individuals (Foucault, 1980). In this sense, linguistic competence in a multilingual, multicultural organisation and society is not a status but a social obligation (Rojo, 2017).
- Implications for Intellectuals in the ANC
The perspectives presented here draw attention to the consequences for intellectual leadership in the ANC.
They suggest a need to look beyond intellectuals as individuals to examine the processes associated with acquiring and using knowledge and legitimacy. Drawing on the value perspective, intellectuals in ‘the broad church’ need to consider what fundamental political, social, and economic value systems are at play, how they can be reconciled, and how to modify groups and factions to best represent values at the heart of ANC’s identity. To deal with competing logics, the intellectual must also attempt to bridge alternative political positions and value systems within ‘the broad church’ that are nevertheless inherent to the ANC’s existence and survival.
The social practice perspective brings the intellectual leadership process down to earth by showing how patterns of decision making are embedded in established practices and routines. These skills can be acquired through active participation in routine decision making. Achieving genuine impact in the broad church requires skilful effort over a long time that is a call for diligence, persistence, patience, and subtlety. The most successful intellectuals will be those who are willing to commit both to the organisation and to desired policy and strategic development and change over the long hall.
This though is not a blueprint that promises easy prediction. There is no simple recipe for intellectual leadership effectiveness through appropriate traits, fitting one’s style to the dynamic context, or being inspirational or charismatic. Although all these perspectives do not plump down on one side or other of the entrepreneurship-stewardship debate, but could be compatible with both of them depending on whether intellectuals decide to destabilise or disrupt old networks, build new ones, and act as critics of new approaches (the entrepreneurial perspective). Or whether they promote the stability of existing networks, defend established modalities that reconcile competing values and develop their leadership skills through the rehearsal and usage of existing practices (the stewardship perspective).
Whichever path they take, they will need to build on and deal with the underlying forces suggested above by collectively operating within networks in ‘the broad church’ legitimately acquired by incarnating and bridging values that lie at the heart of the ANC’s reality, and knowledge that is embedded in and acquired through ‘higher education and training’, and participation in the ANC’s decision structures and processes (Denis, 2005).
- Writing – Reading, Speaking – Listening in the ANC
- Speaking, listening, writing and reading in the ANC is aimed at a certain relationship between what we say to each other about issues central to the organisation and the country, and about the matrix of ideas that shape our deliberations and actions. They are acts of mutual recognition, of understanding and knowing each other again and again in a dynamic world within a complex system of logics.
A liberation movement, acutely aware of its own historical contingency explores these forms of knowing and communication to fuse the individual perspective to the public project of solidarity, social cohesion, and nation building as it is engendered through the insights and sensibilities, not of intellectuals in the conventional sense, but through the deliberations and actions of all who live and work in South Africa. Unacceptable is the egotistical self-consciousness, ‘I think therefore I am’ (Derrida, 1989; Gasche, 1988).
- Because of complexity, of the dynamism and elusiveness of the freedom and justice we seek, in the context of a secular state in which there is no final vocabulary to justify decisions and actions, continuous deliberation and attentiveness’ are imperative. So intellectual leadership is not a trait or an attribute intrinsic in a few individuals, but is collectively produced through various forms of communication. It is essentially social in origin and public in orientation. This relationship, mediated through various discourses, constructs the ANC ‘as a broad church’ and ‘an alliance’ of shared languages and meanings across a society of differences. We think, we fell, we speak, we listen, we write, we read – and, therefore, we are. So individual subjectivity is a function, a dialectical function, of collective subjectivity.
- The ANC as ‘a broad church’ or ‘an alliance’ would not be possible if it did not already harbour within itself that complicity of divergent interpretations that present themselves as opportunities, as possibilities, as thresholds, or as crossings towards a political, social, and economic order that will suffice. There is no space here for ‘a philosopher king’, ‘the genius’, the visionary, a walking encyclopaedia of final questions and final answers, operating in a void. Ideas here are contingent and, to be worthwhile, must be responsive and hospitable to emerging and changing realities socially experienced.
Identity, the self, language, consciousness are all contingent, always already constructed in certain spaces and times; they are inventions of history. Outside these constructions, there may be ‘Truth’ or ‘Essence’ or ‘Reality’, but discourses on these ‘realms’ continue to be inconclusive (Rorty, 1989).
- So if the ANC as ‘a broad church’ and an alliance sounds ambivalent or indecisive, particularly in times of intractable factional battles, it is because it constitutes the medium in which oppositions are recognised, negotiated, and overcome. It creates an environment for one side (including members of factions) to cross over into the other.
It is on the basis of this ambivalence, this apparent indecisiveness, this movement from here to there, that rigid or insistent ideological positions are prevented and transcended. In that way, the ANC is effectively a locus of deliberation, of dynamic strategies and tactics. It holds in reserve, in its deliberations, the opposites and differences the process of deliberation socialises and educates.
- The ANC’s Social Imaginary
The ANCderives the normative order underlying its work from the nature of its constitutive members.
Human beings are rational, sociable agents who are meant to cooperate fortheir mutual benefit. Starting from the early twentieth century, this idea has come more and more to dominate our political thinking, and the way we imagine our society and the world. It starts off in the image of a ‘congress’ as a theory of what political society is, and how it comes about. But any theory of this kind also offers inescapably an idea of a deliberative moral order. It tells us something about how we ought to live together to form a political society, against a certain moral background; the people have permanent moral obligation towards each other. The ends sought are certain common benefits, of which freedom, justice, obligation, and human rights are the most important. Intellectual power is seen as an extension and application of these more fundamental moral ties. Intellectual authority, a handmaiden of political authority, itself is legitimate only because it is consented to by members of the ANC, and this consensus creates binding obligations in virtue of what we are and what in history ought to be recognised and acted upon.
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