In Zuma's leadership we do not trust


It is a miracle that the country has managed to function despite what we have been faced with. Warren Buffett famously said: "You should invest in a business that even a fool can run, because someday a fool will."

This speaks to politics too. Specifically, strong independent institutions. You should have strong institutions, because someday someone may want to use them to their own ends.

The past few months and years have shown that it is not enough to just have strong institutions, but the people who lead them need to be beyond reproach, fair, just, show no fear nor favour, and uphold the Constitution. If those who lead those institutions serve agendas and individuals, the institution is weakened and the country too.

As I have mentioned in the past, one of my favourite TV series is The West Wing. In the show, Senator Arnold Vinick is running for president, and is played by Alan Alda. At one point, while he polishes his shoes, he is listening to a much younger man who works at the White House. The young man is irritated by the senator's apparent lack of trust for thinking the White House has a secret agenda.

The senator says to the young man: "The Founding Fathers didn't set up a government based on trust. They could have designed a government based on trust in our ability to govern fairly, but they knew that power corrupts, so they invented checks and balances. That was genius. The Founding Fathers did not want me to trust you and they did not want you to trust me."

We are not supposed to trust our leaders, because of what power can do to some. This is why we need powerful, robust institutions that can be skeptical on the people’s behalf. Anyone who wants to weaken institutions and steamroll them is up to no good.

If our leaders cannot be compelled by revolutionary morality to do the right thing, at least we have the law to force them to. It is sad then that we always have to rely on the law to do the right thing, instead of relying on our leaders to do the right thing because it is the right thing.

Whilst it is true that institutions are not individuals, we saw how Thuli Madonsela’s exemplary leadership became something of a moral compass when leadership failed the people repeatedly, deliberately and disdainfully. When her office was vilified, it was constantly vindicated by the courts. In fact, days after she vacated her office, she was being tainted and vilified. Very few South Africans had even heard of the Public Protector before she assumed her role. Even if she was fearful at times while executing her duty, she did not let those fears govern her responsibility to uphold the Constitution.

In his book, The Prince, Machiavelli writes about what it takes to get a people united under its leadership; that it sometimes takes the virtues of one man. Consequently, the demise of a nation's morals can be the result of one man.

Machiavelli goes on to write that "... they become emboldened to make new attempts against the government, and to speak ill of it, and therefore it is necessary to provide against this, by bringing the government back to its first principles. Such a return to first principles in a republic is sometimes caused by the simple virtues of one man, without depending upon any law that incites him to the infliction of extreme punishments; and yet his good example has such an influence that the good men strive to imitate him, and the wicked are ashamed to lead a life so contrary to his example". So influencial are the simple virtues of one man or woman.

Watching Shaun Abrahams apply what some have called The Shaggy Defence, "It wasn’t me", before he dropped the charges against Pravin Gordhan, one wondered why he allowed such a high profile matter to escalate so much when he had no real case. Either he is cowardly, stubborn, incompetent or bends to the will of others, as opposed to adhering to the laws. He let it go too far.

President Harry S Truman famously had a sign on his desk which read, "The buck stops here". What he meant by that was that as a leader he would always take responsibility. He would not pass it on to someone else. No "It wasn’t me" Shaggy Defence.

Abrahams did not act as a leader. He now belongs in the same corner of shame that houses Mokotedi Mpshe, former director of Public Prosecutions, who decided to drop corruption charges against President Jacob Zuma, using the most obtuse argument which confounded any legal logic. He too decided to serve an agenda, not the Constitution. When your duty is to serve and uphold the Constitution and you choose to ignore it, you don’t break the Constitution; you break yourself against the Constitution. What happened to Gordhan was more like persecution than prosecution.

Instead of strengthening our institutions, it would appear as though Zuma has set out to deliberately weaken them in order to meet his own ends, whatever they may be. It could be argued that the appointment of Madonsela was an accidental strengthening of an important institution. Another was the adversarial appointment of Mogoeng Mogoeng as Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court. And yes I confess, I had massive doubts too when he assumed office. Naturally, today you won’t find anyone confessing that publicly. Just like you won’t find white people who voted for apartheid anymore.

In Europe, Italy was in such a chaotic state in 1992 that after many figures in Italian politics were implicated in dodgy dealings, the Christian Democrats, the party that had provided the Mediterranean country with most of its prime ministers since World War II, became completely irrelevant. By 1994 the party disbanded all together.

The ANC will fall into this fate if it fails to heed the warnings from many years; if it continues to be an immovable force of arrogance, continues to defend the indefensible and if it only changes when it is too late and easy to do so. We are fast approaching too late, if it is not already. Zuma has been allowed by his National Executive Committee to have his way for too long.

Every time a scandal comes to light, we think, surely this time the ANC will ask him to leave. Nothing happens. In the process, the people lose hope. They see a party without balls. A party that fears one man and his band of praise singers and vultures who wait to prey on weakened structures; people who worship at the altar of patronage.

Whilst all of this happens, the country bleeds and hope ebbs away. Nostalgia no longer makes people want to vote for the ANC. It may be too late, too late for the ANC. Even though too late may only be tomorrow, too late has already begun. Unless... well, the ANC knows what to do, but it won’t. So it is already too late.  

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