🔒 Dirk Hartford: Why Vusi’s “Siya for President” suggestion has great merit

The political landscape is in tumultuous waters as more than 200 parties gear up for the upcoming elections, reflecting a rising tide of dissatisfaction with the existing political order. The analogy of Richards Bay harbour is a vivid portrayal, with one prominent political vessel sinking under the weight of its baggage. Amidst this chaos, the ANC, draped in black, green, and gold, stands as a decaying relic, leaving supporters at a crossroads. The EFF, a dynamic red force, emerges as a compelling alternative while the blues grapple with their historical baggage. As the nation searches for leadership, an unexpected name is whispered – Siya Kolisi, the rugby captain, for President. Can an athlete truly become a nation-builder? The stage is set for a transformative political journey.

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By Dirk Hartford

The rising tide of discontent with our political (dis)order is floating so many political ships that a record number – over 200 – are expected to compete in next year’s elections. 

The electoral terrain is starting to look like Richards Bay harbour last week – except in the electoral image, there’s one big cargo boat sinking under the weight of its baggage, with a couple of frigates circling it and a few trawlers and several dozen canoeists approaching it.

All are hoping to capitalise on its demise. All are dreaming of political power.

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It’s a truism that not only in South Africa but also in many parts of the world, we have a crisis of political leadership. Ours is especially dire. 

The supercentenarian black, green and gold ANC is so long past its sell-by date that it is rotten to the core and stinking in front of its millions of appalled, shamed and demoralised supporters who have truly vested all their hopes and many, even their very lives in it.

As one comrade told me, “What do you do when you grow up with a father who is everything to you, your hero and role model, the man you aspire to be? And when you are grown up, you realise that actually he’s an alcoholic, a liar, a thief, a wife beater…what do you do with your father ?” 

That is the question facing the masses of ANC supporters today. Vote them out, cry the opposition. But to whom do they turn? 

The truth is, ignoring the 200 or so rats and mice on canoes for the moment, they can either turn left to the red (EFF) frigate or right to the blue (DA) frigate.

The Reds are looking pretty sorted. They are ten years young – full of life, energy, hope and smelling nice. They are the son who finally told the drunk father to voetsek. “I’m not going to be like you; I’ve got your number; I’m going to throw you out the house and show you what a real man looks like.”

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The Reds, who by all accounts are growing in leaps and bounds, have no competition at all on the left. They long ago snatched the red flag from that centenarian Stalinist-trained monstrosity, the SACP, whom they regard with even more contempt than they do its ANC father.

And Numsa’s creation, the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party, despite being formed by the leadership of the biggest and most militant trade union on the continent, was and is effectively stillborn. 

The EFF Reds don’t even bother to directly address the organised working class (the traditional battalions of those like the SACP and SRWP who claim a Marxist pedigree)  even though their organisation draws heavily on both the Leninist revolutionary party model (democratic centralism) and Leninist revolutionary internationalism.

By the way, the EFF’s internationalist pan-Africanism is expressed through a claimed organised presence in about 10 African countries. 

Recently, its leader, Julius Malema (a self-proclaimed black Jew of the Lemba tribe who believes they are the descendants of the lost tribe of Israel) lambasted Kenyan President Ruto pitilessly to loud applause from the packed hall as the honoured guest speaker at the launch of the Pan African Institute in Nairobi.

Enough on the Reds whose line of march to next year’s elections is focussed and clear. More than the Blues and the IEC, their very existence is the best insurance voters have that the elections will be free and fair of ANC shenanigans.

On the right, the Blues, their multi-party alliance, and the host of other old and new parties now paddling around are mainly potentially united by their loathing of the ANC and EFF and their desire for power.

Though not nearly as old as the ANC or SACP, the DA Blues have been around a long time, as long as a piece of string if you take it back to its roots in white politics of the last century. 

And that is the Blue’s big, eternal and fundamental problem – how to undo themselves from their blood-soaked colonial-apartheid history; how to atone and be forgiven; how to die and be reborn again.

There is no doubt that when given the opportunity, as in the Western Cape, the Blues have demonstrated that they are far and away more capable of walking their talk than anybody else in power in the country. 

That is why the ANC, which ruled the Western Cape in Mandela’s times, has been crushed to smithereens there. But the WC is not SA, and its specific demographics and history made it easier for a party still carrying the mantle of whiteness to rule there.

It’s not so easy in the rest of the country. Made even more difficult when the Blues have not been able to retain popular black leaders like Mmusi Maimane, Lindiwe Mazibuko, Herman Mashaba and Phumzile van Damme  – some of whom have gone on to form up-and-coming new political formations.

Read more: Springbok Superstar Siya Kolisi has Lunch with the FT – Township hero to World Cup Champion

Blues chairperson Helen Zille is one of the most astute politicians in the country, but she’s a disaster on the battlefield. Atholl Trollip appeared good, but he left too. There’s something wrong in the state of DA Bluesville; they also epitomise the leadership crisis.

There lies the rub for the Blues. They have not been able to attract the many capable and experienced people who have long ago left the ANC in disgust but who find joining up with the DA a bridge too far – even if they quietly admire what it is doing.

Zachie Achmat, for example. An ANC activist for nearly 40 years and the person directly responsible for some of the most successful people-based interventions in post-apartheid SA – not least of all the Treatment Action campaign for Aids awareness, Equal Education campaign and the brilliant grassroots news agency Ground Up.

Does he join the Blues? No, he is running as an independent in next year’s elections.

Recently, First Rand’s CEO Roger Jardine, from a dyed-in-the-wool ANC family and the youngest ever DG in SA under Mandela, put up his hand, too. But not for the Blues.

The Freedom Front’s Corne’ Mulder, the longest serving MP by far in SA going all the way back to apartheid SA, is another brilliant politician who created formidable and commendable initiatives mainly among the Afrikaner people. But he doesn’t join the Blues except in coalition.

By the way, Mulder and the EFF are at one in the fundamentals of their political strategy, even if they are polar opposites on the spectrum. Like the EFF, Mulder believes the ANC must be uprooted entirely everywhere its poison has reached, and this will be a formidable task. 

He advocates for 1980s UDF-style mass mobilisations in every community as the only way to cut out the ANC abscess.

Talking UDF, what about the tried and tested leaders of UDF/Cosatu/ANC  in the 80s, some of whom recently got together to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the birth of the UDF. Trevor Manuel, Popo Molefe, Valli Moosa, Alec Erwin, Cheryl Carolus, Jay Naidoo, Saki Macozoma, Jayendra Naidoo, Allan Boesak, Terror Lekgota, Murphy Marobe among many many others. 

You can be sure they are all equally disgusted with where the ANC has ended up, but where do they go? And why not to the DA Blues? It’s not just that most of them have become fabulously wealthy in democratic South Africa, it’s also because joining the Blues feels like going backwards, and who wants to do that?

Rise Mzanzi is the organisation trying to appropriate the spirit of those good old days and people of the UDF. Let’s see what happens.

The point is that all of these formations and coalitions and individuals (not to mention those silver-tongued, opportunistic, xenophobic agitators in the Patriotic Alliance and Dudula) floating in the harbour in more or less the same space as the Blues lack the one thing the reds might have – a visionary capable black leader to unite around who will find natural resonance with the masses of SA.

Are they out there? Of course, they are. For starters, how about this idea from one of them – serial entrepreneur, global speaker, social media hotshot and venture capitalist Vusi Thebekwayo: “Siya Kolisi for President. Siya Kolisi is a captain who doesn’t just lead a team but elevates a nation. His story transcends rugby, speaking volumes about leadership that inspires beyond the field.”

From the Eastern Cape to the world stage, Kolisi’s journey is a masterclass in resilience. His story is one that every aspiring leader should study.

He plays an average of 55 minutes per game, and his on-field stats are beyond impressive, but his authentic leadership shines brightest off the field.

So it begs the question, can athletes be nation builders? The stories of George Weah and Imran Khan tell us, emphatically, yes. Their transitions from sports stars to national leaders set a remarkable precedent.

George Weah’s remarkable transformation from a celebrated footballer to the President of Liberia Imran Khan’s journey is another testament. His cricketing prowess brought him fame, but his political leadership as Pakistan’s Prime Minister is shaping his legacy. #ImranKhanLeader

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What makes these transitions compelling is the seamless application of skills from sports to governance. Leadership, strategy, resilience – qualities honed in stadiums, now used in the halls of power.

What makes Kolisi a remarkable leader, as we have seen these past weeks, is his empathy, humility, and purpose-driven approach. These are all qualities that define authentic leadership.

We know that South Africa has a rich legacy of leadership. Mandela taught us about reconciliation and unity, and Siya, in his unique way, is carrying that torch into the future.

As a nation, we’ve faced pandemic challenges, and in Siya’s words, “we have gone through such a lot”. But just like the Boks, we rally around a common cause. It’s in our DNA. We are forged through unity.

The transformation of SA rugby is a metaphor for our nation’s journey. From a past of racial supremacy to a future of unity and equality. If we stay the course united, the sky really is the limit.

I’ve witnessed many forms of leadership, but Kolisi’s blend of resilience, empathy, and unity is a masterstroke. It’s leadership redefined. An actual Image to behold.

So, a thought for you: If leadership can propel a rugby team to historic heights, what wonders could it do for a nation?

Imagine if the Blue coalition, and all the other rats and mice floating around its section of the harbour, buried their hatches and agreed to unite behind and approach Siya Kolisi-type figure with resonance amongst the masses to run for President as their champion?

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