Analysis: Zuma has no answers. Nor do his potential successors.
- Stephen Grootes
- 14 Nov 2016 11:16 (South Africa)
On Monday President Jacob Zuma gave the perfect example of the kind of lack of leadership with which he has become synonymous. He was asked a series of questions about the State of Capture report. Eleven times, he gave the same reply. Eleven times the same four sentences appear. It is a big “stuff you” to Parliament, accountability, and democracy. It is the classic Big Man approach, the idea that he believes he is above the rest of us. It is also the worst kind of leadership there is. Unfortunately, if you look at the candidates who could replace him, you shouldn’t raise your hopes that much better is on the horizon. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
Zuma has never really shown much regard for Parliament. His answers have always been short on detail. When Julius Malema and his caucus were thrown out of the National Assembly chamber violently, Zuma’s response was to laugh. But Monday’s “answers” are a new low. They show complete disdain. The one answer of substance that he does give, in response to a query about whether he took any action against Mosebenzi Zwane for lying about that banking inquiry, is to say that, “I reprimanded the Minister for the statement.” In other words, a minister of state lied, and all he gets is a reprimand.
It is, of course, proof that Zuma and Zwane are the same, they’re batting for the same team. You could even argue that they have the same employer.
The last Minister to receive a “reprimand” such as this was Nkosinathi Nhleko. Then the “reprimand” was ordered by the last Public Protector, for his operatic defence of Nkandla. And of course, if a reprimand serves no purpose, is it really a reprimand? It certainly is serving no purpose here.
It is becoming a common refrain to hear people simply sigh, and ask how much longer this kind of “leadership” can go on for. What we need is leadership that will take responsibility, that will take it on the chin, that will own up to mistakes. What we don’t need is any more of this “collective responsibility” where no one suffers any consequences for making mistakes. What this country really needs at the moment is proper direction. A set of marching orders, a direction to march in, a sense of unity and purpose. We are beset by drift.
Much is made of the possible candidates to take over from Zuma. We’re told that Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is a technocrat, the person who turned Home Affairs around, who is competent. That Cyril Ramaphosa understands how economies work, will get things done, is not corrupt. But could they really be actual leaders? Evidence that they could is thin on the ground.
A few weeks ago, Dlamini-Zuma jetted in from Angola to address a dinner for the SA National Editors Forum. For journalists, it was pretty swanky, under canvas at a grand old Parktown house, complete with three-course dinner and the immaculately dressed Xolani Gwala. The fact that it was the second time that week that Dlamini-Zuma was speaking at a SANEF event was telling. It could be evidence that she is actually running some sort of campaign. The stage was set for some kind of statement, an eager audience, ready, willing and able to run headlines about “direction” and “leadership” and “the future”.
But there was no material upon which to base such headlines.
Almost the entire speech was what you could call an African Union stump speech. It was so banal, so boring, so lacking in content, that there were no circumstances under which it could not have been given. It was that generic and dull. The most important comment to come out of it was the sentiment that no children should be excluded from higher education because their parents cannot afford it. Really? Has anyone seriously said the opposite, that poor children should be barred from higher education? Of course not. So how then is this a serious statement of intent, of vision, of desire to lead into future?
This is a situation in which Dlamini-Zuma could easily be building some momentum for the ANC leadership conference next year. And she could do it on the sly, under the line, without even trying. And yet she couldn’t even do that.
Unfortunately, her rival, Cyril Ramaphosa, is no better. Literally the only political act of any consequence that he has performed since 2012 has been his statement of “political and moral support” for Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan. Up until that point, he has done nothing. And, if it’s possible, he has achieved even less.
Earlier this year, at the World Economic Forum Africa meeting in Rwanda, Ramaphosa ended up holding a press conference. It was in a hot tent, with a British press officer literally wilting. Yours Truly asked him why someone should “spend money in South Africa when they can put it in an economy like Rwanda that is growing much more quickly, where policy is created quickly and implemented quickly... and especially when it looks to an outsider like parts of government are in conflict with other parts of government?” His answer was this, “If that has your understanding, your perception, then it will be something of the past, because we are streamlining the way we function, the way various government departments are co-operating.”
Can you get past the stench of the bull? And, as it turned out, it wasn’t even true. The “war” inside government has only got worse since then. (This was before Gordhan was charged by the NPA.)
Both Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma speak like this, or don’t say anything in quite this fashion for the same reason. They realise that the path to political power includes being silent on anything that matters. We get it, we understand it, we realise that it is important not to have a strong, public, perhaps even controversial position on anything, because of all the powerful people one could upset.
But by God in Heaven, it is no way to run a country. We cannot continue drowning in platitudes any longer. Our problems are serious, and getting more serious by the day. The only person who benefits from drift is today’s winner of the Fastest driver on the road to Bloemfontein award. The moment when it first appeared that Zuma could win at the ANC’s Polokwane Conference was a speech he gave a few days before it started. In a theatre at Wits University he said, “We need to declare a state of emergency on Aids and crime”. It was a direct hit on Thabo Mbeki. And the evidence suggests that it worked.
It is also to the benefit of all who could run in the ANC’s leadership race to be more direct. One of the reasons the party is in the state it is in now is that it has no direction itself. It’s too split, too factionalised. The last plain-talking leader it had was Nelson Mandela. Mbeki’s speeches were nothing but exercises in looking for the word “Aids”, while Zuma’s were full of promises that he had no intention of keeping (like the time he promised to “urgently fill the leadership positions in the upper echelons of the crime fighting agencies” or the promise to “create one million new jobs”).
Passion, commitment, courage to risk one’s career for what you so strongly believe that you are happy to lose elections in defence of such worthy principles?
“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
That was Mandela. That was the ANC.
The ANC of today can do better. It’s not that hard. It requires a little bit of bravery, and spine. And to remember, once more, that the people of South Africa should come first. DM
Photo: [L] South African President Jacob Zuma and South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa take the national salute before Zuma's State of the Nation address in parliament, Cape Town, South Africa, 17 June 2014. EPA/RODGER BOSCH [R] Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chairwoman of the African Union (AU), waits for questions from journalists, during a joint press conference with German chancellor Merkel (not pictured), at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, 11 July 2013. EPA/SOEREN STACHE