The African National Congress Was Right to Reject Limits on Leadership Term

Cape Times (South Africa), July 3, 2007 | Go to article overview

The African National Congress Was Right to Reject Limits on Leadership Term


BYLINE: Bheki Khumalo

At THE just-concluded policy conference of the African National Congress, our movement squarely faced what Frantz Fanon correctly said: "Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it".

We rejected the barrage of propaganda that sought to impose the "succession issue" as the major agenda item at the conference. Instead we reaffirmed our status as a liberation movement rather than a mere spin-driven political party.

As is recorded in the Report of the Commission on Organisational Renewal, the conference declined to introduce any term limits on the leadership of our movement. Instead the conference upheld the longstanding "'right of any and every ANC member to elect or be elected for any position in the ANC".

Accordingly, all of us within the ANC, including its current president and deputy president, remain at liberty to take up the burdens of office if so mandated. While the policy conference expressed a preference that the ANC president should be the ANC's candidate for President of the country, we also emphasised the "strong view" that this must not be made a principle.

This reaffirms the longstanding progressive wisdom of the ANC, a liberation movement that has never imposed the alien notion of term limits on its leadership.

For 164 years after it was drafted in 1787, even the United States Constitution did not formally limit the country's President to two terms.

That restriction was imposed only in 1951, by the Twenty-Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. This amendment was a blatant and politically partisan rebuke to the great progressive presidency of Franklin Roosevelt.

Roosevelt's political opponents in the Republican Party had included term limits in their electoral platforms when Roosevelt ran for a third term in 1940 and then for a fourth term in 1944. Each time the voters had rejected the proposed Republican term limits and had defiantly re-elected Roosevelt. It was only after Roosevelt had won his fourth presidential election in 1944 and then died in office that the Republicans were able to dismantle and demobilise Roosevelt's coalition.

The Republicans then set out to ensure, by means of term limits, that they would never again face such an unstoppable coalition. Even as the Republican President Harry Truman signed the amendment into law, its wording exempted him from its requirements.

There is therefore nothing sacred about imposing term limits on heads of state in our country's Constitution or the United States Constitution, let alone in the leadership of political parties.

The ANC was therefore correct to reject the importation of term limits into its party constitution. By doing so, the ANC protected the integrity of its historical role as the grand mobiliser of a formidable coalition of progressive forces determined to press home a new deal for all of our people, too many of whom still live in a state of abject poverty and underdevelopment. …

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