Mpumelelo Mkhabela

Imagining Zuma as a 'clever black'

2016-09-16 10:16

Mpumelelo Mkhabela

Imagine for a moment President Jacob Zuma as a "clever black".

Zuma the "clever black" does everything he can to acquire knowledge to govern better.

As a "clever black" Zuma knows that he represents the aspirations of all the people he leads. He knows that South Africa is a complex country with a complex history and that blacks and whites can hold positions of power without being each other’s stooges.

As a "clever black" his knowledge of the workings of the world, especially the global economy, is above that of an average citizen. He reads among other things books, journal articles, statistical reports and cabinet memos. He can recite his 9-point plan effortlessly.

Every year leaders like US President Barack Obama and China's Xi Jinping scratch their heads trying to figure out books they can buy him on his birthday. Given his love for knowledge, not for its own sake but to enable him to lead his country better, Zuma the "clever black" reads so widely that his counterparts struggle to keep up.

As a "clever black" he comes across the book by political scientist Francis Fukuyama titled Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalisation of Democracy.

Fukuyama writes: "I believe a political system resting on a balance among state, law and accountability is both a practical and a moral necessity for all societies."

He further argues: "All societies need to regularise the exercise of power through law, to make sure that the law applies impersonally to all citizens, and that there are no exemptions for a privileged few.”

Zuma the "clever black" realises that what Fukuyama is referring to could be a summary of the South African constitution that he swore to uphold, respect and advance as a president.

But, as it has become apparent, Zuma the "clever black" can only be a wish.

South Africans wish Zuma saw the “moral necessity” to lead by respecting the law and to be accountable to the citizens he leads.

They wish he understood the functioning of a modern state in the 21st Century.

They would like him to think of law as something that doesn’t grant preferences on the basis of a position a citizen holds and that no law must be bent for nefarious reasons such as, for example, to allow Guptas to run amok.

They wish he knew that state institutions are not meant to serve individual interests, but are there to serve the public good.

They wish he understood that upon taking office as president he would, as a matter of “moral necessity”, be scrutinised.

They wish he understood that parliament’s role in a constitutional democracy is to hold the head of the executive to account. So far he's lucky to survive thanks to the ANC majority which he habitually uses - or more precisely abuses - as a shield.

South Africans wish he understood that he cannot be a crybaby who feign abuse when it suits him, but giggles when questioned about his abuse of taxpayers.

They wish he could appreciate the fact that occupying the highest office in a democratic society doesn’t come with automatic respect from citizens. Respect is earned every second primarily by governing with integrity.

Unfortunately, either Zuma does not get it or he is enjoying the idea of behaving as if all the laws of the Republic and all its institutions are a “moral necessity” for everybody else except him.

In the early days of his presidency, Zuma naively believed he could delay the disclosure of his private interests beyond what the law required. Public Protector Thuli Madonsela didn’t take long to attempt to whip him into line, declaring him “tardy”.

He didn’t learn anything from the rebuke. But the Public Protector recognised the “moral necessity” of having a Presidency run by a person who is not tardy.

Zuma appointed Menzi Simelane, a lawyer of questionable integrity, to lead the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). But the Constitutional Court told him in no uncertain terms that his power to appoint should be rational. The court recognised the “moral necessity” of having a respected and legitimate prosecutions body led by a fit and proper person.

Zuma nominated Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo to extend his term of office beyond what the law required. The Constitutional Court issued a strong judgment declaring his decision unconstitutional and suggested his move could be an attempt to unduly influence the court.

Zuma thought he had a right to abuse taxpayers by spending their money building himself a sprawling villa surrounded by a sea of poverty.

In response, the Public Protector and the Constitutional Court demonstrated to him that they understand their job in our modern society as a “moral necessity”. They showed him that the struggle for freedom of which he was part was not meant for self-enrichment.

Zuma has survived prosecution by turning state intelligence institutions into private institutions that collects intelligence like spy tapes on his behalf.

- Follow Mpumelelo Mkhabela on Twitter.

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