Serious business

2010-10-28 00:00

CALL me a fuddy-duddy if you wish, but I think politics is serious business. It cannot be left to those who think of it as something of a pastime or access to a life of glitz and glamour. The quality of political leadership a country or even a city gets goes a long way towards deciding its citizens’ fortunes.

Ancient Greek philosopher Plato was spot on when he said the price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.

As with many South Africans, I find a lot of fault with the political leadership I see in our country. Some things I accept as an ideological difference, which is normal in a politically plural society. Other things, however, I find totally objectionable, like the latest trend by senior political figures to reduce politics to their ability to jive or hang out with pretty celebrities.

I totally object to the growing tendency of our political personalities to carry on as though they are social butterflies first and foremost and then, if they find time, individuals tasked with managing public issues.

There is something wrong with the body politic when leaders far too often find themselves surrounded by beauty queens, pop stars and other social climbers, or dance at every available opportunity.

In the last month alone, we have seen ANC Youth League president Julius Malema and the deputy minister of police and ANC head of elections, Fikile Mbalula, donate (or pledge, since not every announcement of a donation translates into cash) R20 000 apiece to one Chomee, a local pop star better known for her aversion to clothes than her artistic talents. The money is apparently for some scholarship fund the “musician” heads.

Presidential spokesperson Zizi Kodwa then appeared in chain e-mai­l pictures dancing with the local Paris Hilton wannabee, Khanyi Mbau, at the little diva’s birthday party. And City Press published pictures of Kodwa and Malema at the birthday party of a Johannesburg celebrity who told all that he had splashed out R700 000 for his shindig.

You could argue that people have a right to spend their money any which way they choose. I would agree. I would also concur with the view that politicians are humans like all of us and deserve to let their hair down from time to time.

Mbalula and Kodwa’s fixation with the bright lights and “phly” lifestyle is particularly concerning, however, since it was they who just a few years ago were heading a movement against the abuse of alcohol by the youth. They took a lot of stick for even suggesting that taverns and nightclubs should not operate on Sundays.

Today they have become poster boys for the life of bling and booze. With his now established taste for the good life, Malema can cease with his poor-African-child-raised -by-an-impoverished-gogo act.

Together with a jiving president, we have to ask what kind of national ethos we are inculcating when each time our national political and provincial leaders appear in public they are gyrating or hanging out with social butterflies and others who epitomise the worst of the crassness born of the post-1994 political order.

What message are we sending to the country’s young when a beauty queen is met by the most influential youth leader in the country and promised R150 000 for winning a beauty contest? Why no such largesse for young people who are awarded scholarships, are involved in community uplifting projects and other aspects that require a bit more than being born with the right genes?

Leaders must realise that what they do sets the national tone. If we have a hard-working cadre of leadership, we transmit a message that ours is a society that believes that it will get somewhere because of the sweat of its brow. If they send a message that entry into politics is a passport to untold riches that allow them to live like gangsters or hang out with those famous for no other reason than that they are famous, then that is what political parties will attract and society will have as its leaders.

What politicians do is amazingly important, which is why so many in the African National Congress still have former president Thabo Mbeki’s speech mannerisms and many others wear Madiba shirts.

By choosing to embrace glamorous lifestyles, political leaders have endorsed the lie that there are short cuts to success and that those who have it must flaunt it. These leaders have placed the sweet life of decadence ahead of the enduring fruits of rigour and order.

This has nothing to do with the conservatives who cannot bear the sight of successful black people, as some conveniently choose to frame this spectre of crass materialism. It is these leaders, and not the white conservatives, who do black people a disservice by continuing to perpetuate the myth of the native being happy to eat meat and drink beer the whole day and occasionally dance.

They also make me nervous about the gains of our democracy. I am uneasy with our hard-fought democracy being in the hands of those who prioritise the length of the shirt collar and the sharpness of their long shoes ahead only of the smoothness of their single-malt whisky.

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