Unlike SA, leaders in the UK know when to quit: analyst

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Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron speaks after Britain voted to leave the European Union, outside Number 10 Downing Street in London. Picture: Stefan Wermuth /Reuters
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron speaks after Britain voted to leave the European Union, outside Number 10 Downing Street in London. Picture: Stefan Wermuth /Reuters
President Jacob Zuma could act responsibly like British Prime Minister David Cameron and resign, but South Africa lacked a tradition of accountability, according to analyst Daniel Silke.

“There is a long tradition in the United Kingdom of taking responsibility and being accountable when the tide turns against you. Politicians vacate their offices after controversies, incorrect decisions, being on the wrong end of a vote or scandals of varying degrees,” he said.

“Even minor scandals trigger a direct response from officials in the UK, to their credit,” he said.

Silke was reacting to two announcements this morning – Cameron saying he would resign after the Brexit vote that went against him and the Pretoria high court’s dismissal of Zuma’s leave to appeal its decision that he should face corruption charges.

In South Africa the tradition of unaccountability , which was set by the National Party during apartheid, had largely extended into the post-1994 South Africa, said Silke.

“Although the issues (between the UK and South Africa) are different, we cling on to positions as long as we can, until we are booted out of office or charges are laid.”

If Cameron was in the same position as Zuma, for instance, “he would not have survived politically”.

“He would have quit either through his own conscience or because he would be held accountable by his own party. Here the party also does not hold senior officials and executives to account whereas in the UK it is not just a tradition for individual leaders but the party itself.”

He said Cameron had taken a political risk by calling for a referendum. He had risked defeat and also risked stirring up deep divisions in his party.

“This is also a lesson for South Africa here. The South African president may well need to put his own party’s unity at risk in order to attempt dramatic policy revision or about turns. Very few political leaders are prepared to risk unity, yet Cameron ultimately took that risk.

“He knew that a substantial body of his party would not support the Remain view as he did. In this country, if we wanted to take tougher action on labour legislation, for arguments sake, that in itself could be an issue that could split the governing party. If the president was a risk-taker or adventurous or had guts, he too could make a risky decision and put it to the people of the country as to how they feel.”
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