A careless leader

2015-12-17 06:00

WHEN President Jacob Zuma was booed at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service at FNB Stadium, it seemed that was the worst form of embarrassment for our country.

The event was the platform for the world to pay tribute and bid farewell to our beloved founding father, and leaders from across the globe were present to do so. It was televised live in many countries.

Sections of the crowd booed Zuma every time his image appeared on the big screens.

It was humiliating that our domestic troubles and people’s disenchantment with our leader was on full display to the world.

It was perhaps a poignant for the world to see that as South Africa was saying goodbye to its iconic leader, we were now in a leadership crisis.

Our leadership problem exploded this week when Zuma suddenly fired Nhlanhla Nene as Finance minister without justification.

That was by far the single riskiest move any leader has made in the history of our democracy.

Nene’s axing for reasons the president has not bothered to explain has sent the markets into a tailspin and the currency plummeting.

It emerged last week that Zuma had not even informed his cabinet that he intended to fire Nene and they were all stunned.

There is little known about the new minister — even government statements refer to him interchangeably as David, Douglas or Desmond van Rooyen.

We have no idea what his mandate is and can only guess what he has been told to do differently from Nene.

Nene apparently upset the president by being cautious about the R1 trillion nuclear build deal. If that was what cost him his job, it would be expected that Van Rooyen would now have to open up the Treasury volts to start spending more on the project.

This is despite the growing deficit and firm undertakings for government to spend cautiously in troubled economic times.

But the death knell to Nene’s career was his decision to oppose South African Airways (SAA) board chairperson Dudu Myeni and her ambitious plans for the national carrier.

The country has watched helplessly as SAA has lurched from crisis to crisis under Myeni’s leadership and it seems Nene’s attempt to bring some stability to the management of the airline cost him his job.

It will be criminal if it is true that Zuma was motivated by a personal relationship with Myeni or vested interests when he took the decision to axe Nene.

It seems that the ANC leadership was also caught off guard and has been unable to ask Zuma questions about why he plunged the country into an economic crisis.

Many ANC leaders have now opened their eyes to the fact that the president is reckless and gambling with the future of the country.

But they have themselves to blame that they cannot hold Zuma accountable.

There have been many times when they shielded Zuma from being held accountable, including for the massive state spending at his Nkandla home.

ANC leaders believed they were defending their organisation when they went to war with the public protector and the opposition on Zuma’s behalf.

It has now come to the stage that Zuma is invincible and can do whatever he likes, even if it places the economy in peril.

If Zuma’s relationship with Nene had broken down to the extent that it was untenable, he should have given the nation a cursory explanation, even though presidential prerogative does not require him to.

It is what a responsible leader does.

This would probably not have warded off the crisis but it would have displayed some level of respect, at least for the people who elected Zuma.

The most frightening part of this week’s events is that the president seems blissfully unaware of the consequences of his actions.

It means he can, and probably will, do worse.



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