Zuma terrified to take the lead

2009-11-14 13:34

THE Black Management Forum (BMF), the ANC Youth League and the Young Communist League stand disgraced before the nation today – an insult to the very people they claim to champion.

The ugly Eskom drama of the past few weeks also leaves South Africans asking serious questions about the leadership style of President Jacob Zuma.

The Eskom debacle was scandalous and harmful to South Africa’s image, but the way it ended could indicate a new, positive direction in our politics.

When the crisis between former Eskom CEO Jacob Maroga and the Eskom council became public, the BMF and the two youth movements thought it was business as usual: let’s do what we usually do when a black public figure is embroiled in controversy and choose his side while looking for a white guy to blame and call a racist. It worked with Judge John Hlophe, it worked with Leonard Chuene, didn’t it?

Maroga himself thought the emotion he could raise by painting himself as a black victim of a domineering old white guy would pull him through.

In fact, he was the first to bring race into the matter with his strategy document last month, in which he ranted against a “culture of white supervision”.

But the disciples of blind racial solidarity made a slight mistake this time. The conflict between Maroga and his board had absolutely nothing to do with race. Their insults and racial slurs against the white guy in the story, Bobby Godsell, didn’t stick.

The Youth League, to whom Maroga first ran for help, called Godsell a manipulative racist and demanded he be sacked. The BMF’s deputy president, Tembakazi Mnyaka, said Godsell was a “covert racist” with a “baas/boy attitude” towards Maroga.

Godsell has spent decades in the mining industry and is friends with former Cosatu chief Cyril Ramaphosa, ANC secetary-general Gwede Mantashe and the secretary- general of the National Union of Mineworkers, Frans Baleni. He toured the US to promote South Africa last year with Zwelenzima Vavi.

It was the ANC who pursuaded Godsell to take the job as chair of the Eskom board 15 months ago. Mantashe, Baleni and Vavi issued strong statements this past week angrily rejecting any suggestion that Godsell was a white racist. It wasn’t a good moment for the BMF, the ANC Youth League, the Young Communist League and other race fundamentalists.

NUM’s Baleni put his finger on one of the central lessons of this unsavoury episode. He said he could not support racism manufactured to suit certain agendas. To shout racism when there is none “makes it difficult for all of us to confront real racism where it exists”.

Vavi echoed this sentiment. Mantashe said calling Godsell a racist was the “lowest form of rationality”.

It is not clear what role President Zuma played. After meeting him Godsell resigned, declaring that the “shareholder” (the government) had refused to back the board’s decision to accept Maroga’s resignation. Maroga also met Zuma and declared that he had the backing of “the highest” members of the shareholders.

I’m afraid it looks as if Zuma was too scared of Malema and other racial demagogues to make a firm decision. This would be typical of his leadership since his presidency started: he is so scared of being accused that he doesn’t listen to his party, like his predecessor, that he doesn’t lead.

This is a reason the public discourse has become so reckless.

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