Africa

ANC lambasted by billionaire Mo Ibrahim

  • 4 October 2012
  • From the section Africa
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It was not the rudest criticism South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) has endured. Nor was it the most detailed.

But the frowning, reluctant, brutal judgement of one of the continent's most successful and wealthy businessmen carried with it a certain grim, gold-plated clout.

Mo Ibrahim was in Johannesburg on Thursday to announce that Archbishop Desmond Tutu was getting yet another prize.

Richly deserved no doubt, and a gentle reminder of the fearless, selfless leadership that South Africa is sorely missing these days. But not much of a surprise, or call to arms.

After the announcement, though, I spoke at some length with Mr Ibrahim about the current labour unrest and what many are calling the crisis of leadership across South Africa's ruling classes.

"I know I'm saying something quite controversial," he said, almost apologetically, as he swung into attack. "The ANC people may not like to hear this."

Mr Ibrahim's criticisms can be broadly summed up as the ANC's institutional weaknesses, and its loss of direction.

'Lost innocence?'

But here is now he put it: "We're very, very concerned. South Africa is very important for the development of Africa.

"It should be a powerhouse. We can see a lot of challenges here - the mines, education," he said.

"I think the ruling party needs to go back to its roots and [do some] soul searching about its policies of the last 15 years or so.

"What has been lost? Did it lose its own innocence?

"The ANC's current structure has been a huge tent - a very useful tool to fight apartheid… it brought together… business, communists, the church, liberals.

"But that battle has been won. Facing the future, how does the ANC now turn itself into a political party? That is a major challenge.

"Will the ANC be able to continue in its current structure to really face those challenges or does it need to redefine itself as a political party?

"How can a political party be both extreme right and extreme left?

"Because a party at the end has to come round an ideology and have some clarity of direction… Governance is really tough and I really hope the ANC finds a way forward."

Mr Ibrahim urged "all parties" to come together to start a dialogue to end the labour unrest partly triggered by the August killings at the Marikana platinum mine.

"What happened is not acceptable. Not from a government run by the ANC," he said.

I ended by asking him if he would invest in South Africa.

"I will," he said, after a short pause.

"But I'm less enthusiastic than I was five or 10 years ago.

"We really need some more clarity. I think the country has an amazing future in front of it and we should not really muddle that future."

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