Show Hide image

The people's hope for a new democracy

Mosiuoa Lekota, President, Congress of the People, South Africa

It was founded less than a month ago, but the Congress of the People (COPE), South Africa's new opposition party, formed mostly by disillusioned members of the ruling African National Congress, has already changed the country's politics. If the spur for leaving the ANC was its national executive's vengeful forcing of Thabo Mbeki from office with only a few months of his term to go, it needed the bravery of Mosiuoa "Terror" Lekota, a former ANC chairman and minister, to use the turmoil to form a new political grouping. In doing so, he may have brought genuine multiparty democracy to South Africa for the first time.

Support for liberation movements in southern Africa takes on religious dimensions: members of such movements may have problems with the leadership or policies, but rarely do they leave. Often, opposition parties are irrelevant, centred around an individual, or they cater for minorities. This is exacerbated by the past: the struggle against apartheid was the defining moment in South Africa's history, as was the struggle against colonialism in neighbouring countries. For opposition leaders to be effective, they must come from the ranks of liberation movements, which combine centralised, enforced discipline with fanatical loyalty. So, for Lekota to break from the ANC was spectacularly courageous. Yet it was necessary: the ANC, he argues, has become so morally corrupt that it can no longer be renewed from within.

His challenge now is to create a grass-roots-based, social democratic movement on the centre left, appealing to a non-racial audience, to business, the middle class and the poor. So far, Lekota's group has been received with enthusiasm in the media, among the white and black middle classes and by the educated young. However, it is the mass of voters in South Africa's rural areas, shanty towns and townships that matters when it comes to votes; often in these areas there are no hi-tech media. COPE will have to take the fight to these parts of South Africa. Breakaways from the ANC have failed in the past when a single leader has left and been unable to pull others with him or her. But Lekota has taken a whole layer of supporters with him and is widely acknowledged to be among the most gifted political organisers of his generation.

In the 1980s, he was active in the United Democratic Front, the centre-left civic pressure group led by Reverend Allan Boesak, where he had to build broad-based alliances across race, class and political ideology to work against the apartheid government. He led the ANC initiative to woo white Afrikaners and attempts in 2002 to persuade the remnants of the National Party, the party of apartheid, to merge with the ANC. Such was his popularity that, in 1999, Mbeki was forced to appoint him to his cabinet as defence minister, with the hard task of integrating white and black forces that had fought against each other.

At the ANC's 2007 conference every person standing for election was forced to choose between Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma. Lekota was one of the contenders to succeed Mbeki as party leader. If Mbeki had stepped aside earlier and allowed one of the younger generation to take over, it may not have been Zuma, Mbeki's exact contemporary, who won. But Mbeki did not, and the opportunity for renewal was spurned. (If anything, Zuma's election may represent the tribalisation of the ANC: it has been said that he is Zulufying the party after a period in which it was led by Xhosa elite such as Mbeki and Mandela. Lekota himself belongs to another group, the South Sotho.) This is a familiar trajectory for sub-Saharan African independence movements. Liberation leaders stay on for ever, or are replaced by contemporaries, and their parties ossify. Just by forming COPE, Lekota may have started the renewal of South African politics. If COPE fights even half effectively for the same centre-left ground as the ANC, forcing it to become more internally democratic and to improve its record in government, then, even if it does poorly in the national elections this year, it will have served a worthy purpose.

William Gumede is the author of "Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC", published by Zed Books (£16.99)

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The destruction of Gaza

Show Hide image

An English hero for the ages: Ian Botham at 60

Botham blends his sportsmanship and deep-seated passion for cricket with a lust for life.

Begging W H Auden’s pardon, it is possible both to honour and to value the vertical man, and in the case of Ian Botham, who turned 60 on 24 November, it is our bounden duty. No sportsman has given Britons so much to enjoy in the past half-century and no sportsman is loved more. Two decades after he retired from first-class cricket, his reputation as one of life’s champions remains unassailable.

No mere cricketer is he, either. Botham is a philanthropist, having raised more than £12m for various charities, notably Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. In December, 30 years after his first walk from John o’Groats to Land’s End, he will set off again, in South Africa, where England are on tour. And he really does walk, too, not amble. As somebody who accompanied him on one of his dozen walks said: “You can’t keep up with him. The man is a phenomenon.”

Of all postwar sportsmen, only Bobby Charlton and, at a pinch, Henry Cooper come close to matching Botham’s enduring popularity. But Charlton, a shy man who was scarred by the Munich plane crash of 1958 (and may never have recovered from its emotional effects), has never comfortably occupied a public stage; and Cooper, being a boxer, had a solitary role. Botham, by contrast, spoke for England. Whenever he picked up his bat, or had a ball in his hand, he left spectators in no doubt.

Others have also spoken for England. Bobby Moore and Martin Johnson, captains respectively of England’s World Cup-winning football and rugby teams, were great players but did not reach out to people as naturally as Botham. Nick Faldo, Lester Piggott, Sebastian Coe and, to bring us up to date, Lewis Hamilton have beaten the best in the world, but they lacked those qualities that Botham displayed so freely. That is not to mark them down. They were, and are, champions. But Botham was born under a different star.

It was John Arlott, the great cricket commentator, who first spotted his uniqueness. Covering a match at Taunton in 1974, he asked the young colt to carry his bags up the rickety staircase to the press box, where Arlott, wearing his oenophile’s hat, pulled out a bottle of red wine and invited Botham to drink. Forty years later Botham is a discriminating wine drinker – and maker. Along with his friend and fellow England great Bob Willis, and their Australian wine­making pal Geoff Merrill, he has put his name to a notable Shiraz, “BMW”.

Arlott, with his nose for talent and good company, saw something in the young Botham that Brian Close, his captain at Somerset, was beginning to bring out. Later, Mike Brearley, as England captain, drew out something even more remarkable. As Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote, you’ve got to be carefully taught. And Botham, a fine team man as well as a supreme individual performer, has never withheld praise from those who enabled him to find his voice.

If sport reveals character, then cricket is the game that reveals it most clearly. In no other sport is the individual performance rooted so firmly in a team context. Every over brings a contest of skill and intelligence between batsman and bowler but only a team can win the match. “A cricketer,” as Arlott said, “is showing you something of himself all the time.”

Cricket also reveals national character more than any other sport. Football may be the most popular game in the world but cricket, and cricketers, tell us far more about England and Englishness. It is instructive, in this regard, to hear what Philippe Auclair, a French journalist and author long resident in London, has to say about Botham: “He is essentially an 18th-century Englishman.” In one! It’s not difficult to sense a kinship with Tom Jones, Fielding’s embodiment of 18th-century life, who began his journey, as readers may recall, in Somerset.

A country boy who played for Worcestershire after leaving Somerset, and who lives by choice in North Yorkshire, Botham is an old-fashioned Englishman. Although nobody has yet found him listening to the parson’s sermon, he is conservative with a small and upper-case C, a robust monarchist, handy with rod and gun, and happiest with a beaker in front of him. He represents (though he would never claim to be a representative) all those people who understand instinctively what England means, not in a narrow way, but through something that is in the blood.

Above all, he will be remembered for ever as the hero of 1981. Even now it takes some believing that Botham bowled and batted with such striking success that the Australians, who were one up after two Tests, were crushed. Some of us who were actually at Headingley for the famous third Test – thousands who claim to have been there were not – recall the odds of 500-1 on an England victory going up on the electronic scoreboard that Saturday evening.

Botham made 149 not out as England, following on, beat the Aussies by 18 runs. For three hours the country seemed to stop. In the next Test, at Edgbaston, Botham took five wickets for one run as Australia fell under his spell. Then, at Old Trafford, on a dank Saturday afternoon, he played the most memorable innings of his life and one of the greatest innings ever played by an Englishman: 118 magnificent, joyful runs. Joy: that’s the word. Botham brought joy into people’s lives.

Yet it was the final Test at the Oval, which ended in a draw, that brought from him a performance no less remarkable than those from before. He bowled 89 overs in that match, flat out, continuing to run in when others withdrew with injury. That was the team man coming to the fore. Little wonder his comrades thought the world of him.

Modest, loyal, respectful to opponents, grateful to all who have lent him a hand, and supported throughout a turbulent life by Kath, his rock of a wife, and their three children, this is a cricketing hero to rank with W G Grace, Jack Hobbs, Wally Hammond and Fred Trueman. A feature in the lives of all who saw him, and a very English hero. 

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State