Intelligence and Leadership : Dumb, Dumber and then where to?

2014-10-29 13:15

I was born in the same year that saw the National Party of DF Malan wrest power from the United Party at the polls in South Africa’s first post-war, whites only general election. Although my memories of the early 1950’s are sketchy (my pre- and early school years!), I learned through a process of osmosis, eavesdropping on adult discussions and listening to the news (no TV back in those days). On account of my parents example I became interested in issues of the day and took a keen interest in national leaders, party politics and political party leadership.

Against this background, I formed impressions of each of our prime ministers and presidents. Smuts was before my time and so too was Malan, but JG Strydom was a topic of discussion for a while although he was not immensely popular. Then Verwoerd took over and occupied a large part of my youth until - following his assassination - came BJ Vorster, then PW Botha and finally de Klerk, before the advent of Mandela.

The National Party’s leadership was ideologically driven to secure white preservation and security, to safeguard the enduring group identity of whites - and more especially - the Afrikaner. In an environment where they were swamped numerically by other races, all manner of social engineering models flourished, land apportionment was initiated and grand design apartheid was born.

Through all of this, there was nonetheless a strong intellectual thread within the leadership of the National Party – subsequently discredited of course – that sought to justify what was euphemistically at one stage called “separate development”, at another time “baasskap”, and variously labeled “separate but equal co-existence” and of course (the one that stood the test of time) - “apartheid”.

Until the eighties, all National Party state heads had graduated from Stellenbosch University – and in Verwoerd’s case overseas as well.

But PW Botha broke that mould. Instead of earning a degree, he became a full time organizer for the National Part, his advancement a classic case of working his way up the ranks. His persistence was such that an inside joke at time of his election to premier was that he was the first “matric boy” to get the job.

At the time of his promotion, Botha struck me – certainly in comparison with his predecessors - as lacking gravitas and perspective, being short on vision and less ideologically driven than those who had preceded him.

His election as leader highlighted a dearth of intellect in the ruling party. It was astounding that the National Party could not come up with someone more inspiring than “PW” to lead it and his tenure as PM, and then president, confirmed those limitations.

In short, I – and many besides - considered PW Botha a bit of a dummy, a bumbler, intellectually nowhere and a mediocre leader. But the other day I was able to place him in a broader cognitive context and was at once struck by the powers of comparison and changing values.

Zuma compared the Nkandla scandal with PW in his time, invoking the airport at George in the southern Cape as his example. His bottom line was this: “PW Botha spent loads of money on his own airport!” - ergo – what is the Nkandla fuss all about?

To the gullible and ignorant he was obviously seeking to photo-shop his tarnished image by comparing himself to previous national leaders - and given the caliber of his core constituency, it might have worked.

But in doing so, he confirmed himself as being a lot dumber than PW - because it had clearly escaped his attention (if ever he knew) that –

> George airport is a parastatal entity not an asset for personal use; and

> although Botha initiated upgrades to the airport, (which was in his parliamentary constituency at the time) it is busier than Bloemfontein, East London and Kimberley airports - and was only named after him!

Given Zuma’s obvious inability to distinguish between:

* public and private property;

* public benefit and personal enrichment and;

* a homestead and an airport,

we must ask ourselves what business he has running a country? He makes PW Botha look like a genius.

When judging the performance of someone in public office I often find a good acid test is to ask one simple question – would you hire this guy for a position in your business?

Reflect on this for a moment,­ and ask of yourself –

> can you think of anyone who would hire Zuma in any role (other than for his influence on the take)? and

> if you had had to hire Zuma (say you were forced to do so through BEE, quotas or whatever) would you leave important strategic decisions to him?

And then, ignoring the issue of intelligence altogether - do you know of anyone who would trust Zuma with their assets or money?

If your answers to these were “no”, he is plainly unsuited to public service. Worse still - maybe we haven't got to the bottom of the leadership barrel after all.

Back in PW’s time I had thought we were pretty close - but this Teflon coated, street savvy Zulu boy is in a different league! Where to next?

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