Fearful leaders cannot lead

2012-09-15 09:02

At the beginning of this year, we reported that the country’s 10 055 councillors wanted insurance at the government’s expense.

They said there was an urgent need for “dramatic action to prevent loss of life and damage caused by disgruntled communities”.

This week Salga escalated this call to President Jacob Zuma. The cover will be R25 for each councillor and the total bill for the taxpayer R3 million.

ANC MPs on Wednesday voted down a proposal by opposition parties that Parliament’s portfolio committee on mineral resources either visit Lonmin mine workers’ representatives or invite them to air their grievances.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga had still not visited the Northern Cape, where 41 schools have been closed due to intimidation, despite her office promising a week earlier that she would. Like the MPs, Motshekga has previously cited security concerns for her clay feet.

At face value, R25 a head does not look like much. Councillors and other public representatives’ fears are not unfounded.

There is plenty of evidence to show that being a public representative in South Africa can be a hazardous occupation.

The need for insurance and the apprehension by public representatives spell out that we have a political leadership that is increasingly alienated from those who voted for it.

It is important, but not enough, to call on law enforcement agencies to arrest those who cause damage to public property or that belonging to councillors.

Instilling a rule of law where everyone accepts the terms of engagement must be civil, even if they are in disagreement, is one of the requirements for an effective relationship between the leaders and the led.

The problem cannot be remedied by throwing money at it.

It requires public representatives to make a conscious effort to see where the bridges between them and the communities they are supposed to represent have broken down, and think deeply about how they can be rebuilt.

Politicians cannot keep running away from their constituencies. An election will sooner or later force them to return to the communities they fear.

To return in armoured cars, surrounded by bodyguards surely means they have no moral right to call themselves leaders of these people?

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