Opinionista Mabine Seabe 30 September 2011

Talk to us, Mr President

With a growing number of matters of national interest on President Zuma’s desk, the least the public expect is a public statement which comes directly from the President – and not a spokesman.  

President Jacob Zuma owes his citizens a message of assurance; a 7pm live broadcast would be spectacular but even a written statement would suffice. We need the President to give us guarantees that he is the man running the country, and that he is in control. President Zuma has plenty to talk to us about. There’s the Commission of Inquiry into the multi-billion rand arms deal; the Public Protector’s reports on the SAPS lease deals (which involves General Bheki Cele and public works minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde) and on cooperative governance minister Sicelo Shiceka’s spending habits; there is also the matter of his top spooks waging a war of egos against one another. Truth be told, our man in the Union Buildings has his plate full and we need to hear it from him that he is able to chew it all.

President Barack Obama is the grand master at informing his citizens of what his office is doing about addressing his nation’s most pressing matters. Obama has a Your Weekly Address, which he uploads onto YouTube to keep his countrymen informed. In the past few weeks, Obama has spoken about “Putting Country Ahead of Party” and “Getting the Economy Growing Faster”.  The Whitehouse account also hosts Twitter town hall meetings, where followers on the social network platform are able to get closer to the administration and ask questions on topical matters.  President Zuma’s Twitter account (@SAPresident) has been less than inspiring, as he does not engage much and the Presidency (@PresidencyZA) account merely recites speeches which the President delivers, and can be found on the Presidency website anyway.

Closer to home, DA leader and Western Cape Premier Helen Zille (@helenzille) has a well-known Twitter profile and presence. She regularly interacts, though selectively, with her followers (both those who critique and praise her party’s leadership).

The President’s communications advisor, Zizi Kodwa, has recently taken to Twitter and, like all first comers, is taken time to warm up to the social network platform. On the other hand, public enterprises minister Malusi Gigaba (@mgigaba) is a regular feature – though mostly in his personal capacity, and seldom talks about politics (both party and government). He is there nonetheless.

In the end, we want an assuring word from President Zuma and there are a multitude of platforms for him to do so. As things stand, the President’s leadership style seems very laissez faire; he has taken very little initiative. With the number of miles that Inkwazi, the presidential jet, is clocking up, I would think that the international community hears more from President Zuma than we as South Africans do.

Yes, as South Africans, we rightfully expect some level of engagement from our Number One citizen. For the time being though, all we want (well at least what I want) is a brief but assuring televison address – where we can see his lips move and eyes blink – from our leader to let us know how he is going to handle these matters of significant national interest. Whoever advises the President on communications issues needs to speak up to get him to speak up. DM



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