Mondli Makhanya: We’ll miss you Bathabile Dlamini, but please vanish

Mondli Makhanya is editor--in-chief of City Press.
Mondli Makhanya is editor--in-chief of City Press.

The reports may have been met with great elation in most quarters, but we in the journalistic tribe received the news that Bathabile Dlamini was leaving formal politics with mixed feelings.

Hearing about Dlamini’s decision to resign from Parliament was like getting news that a close relative or friend is relocating to another country and you will only be able to see them intermittently.

Journalists huddled in groups sharing “Batha” tales and talking about dreading life without her.

There were unconfirmed rumours that funds were being raised for a farewell party for someone who was “one of us”.

Should you have time on your hands, pop in to a newsroom near you and feel the sombre mood.

Take some good liquids with you to lift the spirits.

If you bump into a journalist on the streets, haul him into the nearest pub and buy him a tipple. The One Above will bless you for taking pity on the forlorn.

You must realise that it is not every day that the media fraternity loses someone who has been such a gift.

Ever since she emerged as a national figure, Dlamini has provided hectares upon hectares of copy for journalists.

Broadcast journalists have never been let down by this wonderful woman, who always provided them with priceless soundbites and inimitable visuals.

This lowly newspaperman’s last close encounter with Dlamini was at February’s state of the nation address, where she was like an attentive student wanting the teacher to notice that she was hanging on to his every word.

With notebook and pen at the ready, she waited eagerly for President Cyril Ramaphosa to begin speaking.

As her fellow MPs giggled and horsed around, she wore a serious face. Throughout Ramaphosa’s speech, Dlamini scribbled furiously as though she was transcribing his speech in the good old-fashioned way.

In fact, it was not clear which moved faster, her scribbling movements or her chewing motions.

Someone in the press gallery quipped that surely she should know that the full speech would soon be available online and on social media. But that was not the point.

She had to show the boss that she was taking his marching orders to heart and would emerge from the National Assembly ready to carry out his Thuma Mina instructions.

Fully aware that her chances of retaining her ministerial position after the elections were slim, she had to impress the big man.

She would continue this trend of sucking up as the elections and inauguration drew closer.

Alas, it just did not work. Dlamini now finds herself on the sidelines, bitter and twisted, and lashing out at the world.

She truly cannot understand why any president in the world would not want to utilise her unique skills, superior intellect, leadership experience and abundant energy.

The implied question in her resignation letter and in interviews she gave to media houses was, what is wrong with this Cyril chap? Answer: He suffers from this disease called patriarchy.

The lack of self-realisation was bewildering. Here was one of the worst performers in Jacob Zuma’s calamitous Cabinet – someone who had imperilled the wellbeing of millions of vulnerable citizens –now claiming victim status.

If there was such a being as a God of Disaster, Dlamini would be that deity’s right-hand angel.

Yet she opines in her lengthy letter: “One of the ways leaders must treat those that they serve with, is to have two ears and treat members equally ... given the influence of the media nowadays and how it has been used to destroy some of us. The African National Congress has the responsibility of giving all of us a hearing, more particularly those that serve in executive.”

Victimhood and privilege all rolled into one.

But we have to understand Dlamini. She rose to senior office during the era when mediocrity was exalted and glorified.

In those times, virtually anyone could occupy a senior post – as long as you pledged fealty to the leadership.

Getting a Cabinet position or becoming a mayor or a board member of a parastatal was a cruise.

Once in there, failure was no shame. Nobody seemed to mind.

It also helped if you were a little dirty and willing to bend the rules. The collapse in all spheres of governance was due to this high-speed race to the bottom.

We are thankfully out of that era now. Competence and skill are regaining their currency. But we are by no means out of the woods.

We may have a slightly more competent Cabinet led by someone who knows what he is doing, but the level of acceptance of the below par is ingrained in the state and broader society.

It would be so easy to slide back.

In his seminal book The Trouble with Nigeria, author and intellectual Chinua Achebe pointed out that there was intrinsically nothing wrong with his native country’s character, climate or water.

The Nigerian problem, he said, was the “unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership”.

He could have been referring to Dlamini and those she helped to drag the nation close to the abyss.

Hopefully, she will disappear from sight and give way to those who want to exercise true leadership.

We’ll cope okay with the missing her quaintness part.

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