David Moseley

JZ’s presidency: impotent?

2012-05-22 10:00

David Moseley

When I was at school we had a tough as nails headmaster. Square-jawed and standing well over six-foot tall with a classic "hams as fists" look about him, he scared the cocksure nature of a 13-year-old right out of me.

His voice boomed down the corridors when kids were up to no good and if you got sent for a hiding there was no point in adding an extra layer of underpants or shoving torn out pages of Hamlet into your jocks. The cane would tear straight through them anyway.

He was the best headmaster I could have hoped for. Tough and uncompromising in his beliefs, but open and approachable on any given day (unless you were bent over awaiting the dreaded swoosh-whack sound of bamboo. Then you just kept your trap shut). He was the boss, the undisputed leader of the school and the man who looked like he belonged at the top. He was the guy you didn’t want to disappoint in public in your school uniform, so you made sure those blazer buttons were shiny, shirt tucked in and socks pulled up.

This was a man that commanded respect. Not because he was bigger than me, or older, and not because he was in charge of 800 unruly teens (and 30 unrulier staff), but because of who he was and how he conducted himself. He was a leader with a firm yet fair hand. Later he moved to an all girls' school which, as coincidence would have it, was the same one my fiancée attended. She too speaks in glowing terms of his headmastering.

Boss or buffoon

Later, at my first job, I worked for a guy that pretty much let me do whatever I wanted, as long as my deadlines were met. I was 21 and just out of varsity. I should never have made one deadline in my first year. But I did.

This boss wasn't imposing. He wasn't a tea-cup thrower, a ranter or finger wagging "you will be here by 8:30am" tyrant. In fact, the scariest thing about him was a Modus Western Province golf shirt that he wore around the office. Yet he commanded my respect because he was the best at what he did, and I'd spent three years at university looking up to his talents. I didn't want to let him down when I started working.

And so to Jacob, a man currently being defended by people who say we should show him some respect purely because he's the president. What utter tripe. Being voted in to lead the country doesn't automatically qualify your right to respect. Yes, we respect him as we would any other human being. But not because he's in charge. If you start bowing down to a man just because he's wearing the crown, then you’re not fully appreciating the concept of a free and fair society.

I've worked for or alongside plenty of buffoons in my time. And let me tell, from the outside, Jacob is no better than the incompetent boss, placed at the head of the company because he's been there the longest, who swoons around the passages not quite sure what everyone is doing. He's affable, friendly, harmless, but you don't respect him, you just smile and get on with your work, safe in the knowledge that he can't last forever.

And that's the problem with Zuma's presidency, it's impotent. Ironically, for such a virile gent, the place where we'd like to see the most spunk sees none at all. If the president wants respect he has to earn it. Has he? Not from where I'm sitting. Sex scandals, corruption and incompetence are the words that will define his time at the top. He seems too cowed by those around him to really let rip, and lead with the stature of a dignified man.

I have to be honest. He seems like a good guy. On TV, even in pictures, he looks like the kind of bloke who would spin an entertaining yarn around the braai. But he doesn't look like a leader. He doesn't strike respect and dignity into the heart of the nation. Instead, he looks like a man who's bitten off more than he can chew, who hides behind his cronies and comrades, emerging from the shadows every now and then to douse a flame that's fanned too furiously for too long. He looks out of his depth. And that's not what you want from the man in charge.

- Follow @david_moseley on Twitter.

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