Power wants flattery, not the truth

2012-04-17 00:00

“SPEAK truth to power”. Words we have heard many times and words that the powerful often use to encourage us to demonstrate how fair and democratic they are. Yet when one dares speak truth to power, one is met with a full personal verbal violence designed to discredit, disseminate and disable.

The attacks are straight out of the Machiavellian school of thought. To quote from his book, The Prince: “Men ought either to be indulged or utterly destroyed, for if you merely offend them they take vengeance, but if you injure them greatly they are unable to retaliate, so that the injury done to a man ought to be such that vengeance cannot be feared.”

We have seen the response of the government and African National Congress to the words of Nedbank chairperson Reuel Khoza’s criticism of the government, demonstrated by Jimmy Manyi, and from the ANC’s Gwede Mantashe. Khoza was bludgeoned in the press in Machiavellian fashion. The bludgeoning was not just to shut him up, but to ensure that any other capitalist leader who dares speak would suffer the same fate.

The ANC never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity. In this case, it should have missed the opportunity by ignoring the utterances of Khoza. But it could not hold itself back and took full advantage of its bully pulpit. The ultimate weakness of insecurity is that it is a descending spiral. It confronts those who dare disagree with the weakness of arrogance, mistaking it for strength.

Khoza had said that South Africans should hold the government to account and that the country is fast losing the checks and balances provided by the Constitution, “putative leaders who, due to sheer incapacity to deal with the complexity of 21st-century governance and leadership”, could not lead. The truth is that the ANC has spoken about the need for the movement to modernise and about developing leaders who will truly represent the values of the African National Congress, not careerists who have no capacity, nor care to deal with the issues of the country, other than the fact that for them, being a comrade is a career and a path towards self-enrichment.

The only difference is that Khoza said the same differently. And the ANC also saw him as an outsider.

I am not advocating that those in power must forever turn the other cheek when criticised, nor am I suggesting that they should never defend themselves when falsehoods are spoken about them. It is the manner in which they respond that needs questioning. We have to question whether they want to see the truth as the citizens see it. If the citizens are incorrect, they ought to be corrected without having to resort to bully tactics.

A few days after Khoza’s comments about the government, Kuseni Dlamini, former CEO of Old Mutual Emerging Markets, wrote a glowing review of the Jacob Zuma presidency and said: “President Zuma is doing an impeccable job”.

The government said nothing. There were no attacks. Of course. No one in their right mind attacks someone who says something good about them. Whether one knows what is said about them is not entirely true. Our weakness as people allows us to be more accepting of flattery than truth. Truth does not mean disrespect either. For some mistake the harshness of their words as truth. If you speak the truth with the intention to hurt, you must also expect your words not to be listened to. There is an art to speaking the hard truths if one wants to be heard.

Unfortunately, power does not want truth, it wants flattery. Power does not want criticism, it wants praise. Regardless of how power responds to criticism, those with the means to speak truth to the powerful must continue to do so.

Citizens of any country in the world have a moral obligation to be suspicious of their government. Over and above that, it is not enough to speak truth to power, but we have to question it. It is to be questioned because power is answerable to the people and has power as long as the people will it to have it. As long as the people say nothing, the more powerful and fearful power becomes and the more silent we become. Silence breeds a power that no longer serves those it is meant to serve, but serves itself for its own sake in an unending gluttonous feast.

To criticise the ANC is to be an enemy of the ANC. This mind-set ought to change. Some criticise it precisely because they want it to succeed for they know it can do better.

— News 24.com

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