Clothes don’t always maketh the politician

2018-09-16 06:03
President Cyril Ramaphosa gets a standing ovation as he quotes Hugh Masekela's song 'Thuma Mina'. (Paul Herman, News24)

President Cyril Ramaphosa gets a standing ovation as he quotes Hugh Masekela's song 'Thuma Mina'. (Paul Herman, News24)

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Politicians embark on their journey knowing full well that once they are players in the game, their lives become public. They lose all rights to being private citizens and the public always scrutinises them for their actions – and for the lack thereof.

So, it was quite something when 90-year-old Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthulezi found himself at the centre of the news for a suit he wore to one of his marathon birthday celebrations.

I imagine that, for anyone who has managed to live for nine decades in this world, the last thing he would want would be to have his attire scrutinised. Well, that is unless, of course, the “he” we are talking about is Buthelezi, whose involvement in the country’s politics is well documented.

At issue was a R90 000 suit he wore for a do at Durban’s International Convention Centre a fortnight ago. The party was attended by political luminaries, including former presidents Jacob Zuma and FW de Klerk. Buthelezi had to look the part. And, he certainly achieved it, looking dashing in an Eastern-inspired gold-and-black suit from Durban designer Janak Parekh.

But, shortly after the party, the suit and its cost found its way into the news across the country – and even as far as neighbouring eSwatini.

The outcry prompted Buthelezi to “present the facts” about the suit. He said he returned it because “I could certainly not have afforded it”. He said he was taken by surprise when Parekh was quoted in the media, saying he had no idea why the suit was returned.

Explaining why he felt the need to enter the public discourse, Buthelezi wrote: “Nevertheless, because it has become the focus of such public and unwarranted attention, I felt it necessary to present the facts.”

The facts were welcomed but the assertion that the suit had become the focus of “such public and unwarranted attention” was a little misguided. Whatever you do in private as a politician, you should be able to defend when it comes out in public.

And, as a member of Parliament, the very place where rules are made, the public ought to know who showers MPs with gifts – and whether they might hold some expectation in return for that gift.

The attention Buthelezi received in what he believed was a personal matter, was in no way “unwarranted” as he put it. It comes with the job. The public has every right to expect Buthelezi and all MPs to act beyond reproach.

If his job is becoming too hot to handle, maybe the time has arrived to hand over the baton to someone else who can stand the heat.

Follow me on Twitter @DumisaneLubisi


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