Politicos just want to stay put

2018-05-24 06:01

South Africa does not have a strong ethos when it comes to voluntary resignation of political leaders.

According to Theo Barclay, “the first rule of politics is; never resign”.

In fact, “resigning your post in government has long been the unhappy minister’s weapon of last resort”.

So Supra Mahumapelo’s “essence of the absence of presence” resignation was as dramatic as it was confusing.

As if that was not enough, he rescinded his resignation a few hours later. It seems that our politicians have a knack for missing opportunities of resigning quietly at the right time.

We saw this recently with Jacob Zuma when his party implored him to step down.

Instead of simply writing a short letter of resignation and addressing the nation forthwith, he whinged and moaned during an interview with the SABC, only to resign hours later.

Patricia De Lille has also been booted out by her party after kicking and screaming to protect her “reputation and integrity that have been built over many years”.

She is still digging-in her heels. This begs the question: under what circumstances should a politician resign their position of trust and how should they do it? A politician should resign when his or her political party or the dominant faction of the party no longer wants them in a certain position.

Thabo Mbeki was the best example of this. When the National Executive Committee of the ANC asked him to step down, he obliged immediately.

In his letter of resignation to parliament he wrote: “The leadership of my political organisation, the African National Congress, has informed me that they have decided to recall me as president of the country. This letter serves to inform you, Honourable Members, that I have therefore decided to resign my position as President of the country, effective upon receiving your advice that parliament has finalised this matter”.

This is an honourable and dignified exit. Time has the tendency of vindicating truth. We know that because Julius Malema confessed that they were misled and fed wrong information about Mbeki.

So politicians, as public figures, have to voluntarily forgo the inclination to vindicate themselves because ordinary people can see when political bosses are lying about a person.

Politicians have to be honest enough to accept it when the majority of the people who voted for them no longer want them in power.

For politicians to hide behind political conspiracies is untenable. If they are really the servants of the people, as they want us to believe, they must not wait for people to stage mass protests and destroy property and infrastructure.

Nor should they wait for legal declarations by the courts and regulatory bodies. They must do the honourable thing and let go with their integrity intact.

Estelle Morris was a minister of education under Tony Blair in the UK. Apparently, when she took over the position in 1999, she promised to resign if numeracy and literacy targets were not achieved.

When they were not, in 2002 she fell on her sword and wrote one of the most honest letters of resignation ever written. In her letter to Tony Blair, she wrote, “I’ve learned what I’m good at and also what I’m less good at. I’m good at dealing with the issues and in communicating to the teaching profession. I am less good at strategic management of a huge department and I am not good at dealing with the modern media”. Her candour and integrity are still refreshing and alluring in their power. Many leaders would do well to follow her example. When a personal moral code or principle has been violated, a politician has an obligation to step down.

Patrick Kulati via email

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