Neither a spook nor a peacemaker be

2009-11-14 13:14

PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma’s greatest assets during the liberation struggle and the negotiations to end apartheid are proving to be his biggest liabilities as president.

Zuma made his name as an intelligence specialist.

Intelligence bosses keep ­concentric circles of influence around them so that they ­receive competing intelligence from which they can form a complex and complete analysis of threats facing their movement, country or business.

The president is a past master at this, which is why he made his name in intelligence. He kept numerous networks alive and cultivated committed and loyal cadres.

This helped him yank the presidency from his nemesis, Thabo Mbeki, because he had retained support in the post-apartheid intelligence and ­security structures.

But this is not the way to run a government because it results in confusion. Zuma’s cabinet and cluster system is not yet working because he has crafted it in too cumbersome a form. His presidency is so filled with talent that there is too much of it. People don’t know what to do so they are doing a lot of running around but there is very little substantive governance to provide the sense of leadership we so badly require.
It is as if the presidency is built on shifting sands because there are so many competing centres of power. Are the Union Buildings the location of authority or is it party headquarters at Luthuli House? And if it is Luthuli House, then is it the youth league or the office of Gwede Mantashe, the secretary-general, who is in charge?

Zuma’s other signature style that won him political authority was his ability to negotiate across conflict. He solved the violence in KwaZulu-Natal by helping to bring warring parties to peace and by his wily ­tactic of getting the Zulu monarch onto the ANC’s side.

It was brilliant in its time, but it doesn’t work now. Take the Eskom crisis as an example. There is now no doubt that ­Zuma intervened because he wanted Eskom chairperson Bobby Godsell and its chief ­executive Jacob Maroga to reach a rapprochement.

But it couldn’t be done and all Zuma did was sow confusion and make us look silly. Maroga thought he had the support of the “highest shareholder” – a reference to Zuma – while ­Godsell felt that as chairperson, he was authorised to take a decision on whether the power utility was headed in the right direction.

Zuma’s old tactic of talking and finding consensus was not the right one at Eskom and it ended in a comedy of errors. Now both men are gone and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

He has sown similar confusion in economic policy by making three different ministers believe they are in charge.

The president must alter this style or the centre will not hold and things will fall apart.

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