Well, it seemed a good idea at the time
19 March 2018 10:52 (South Africa)
Opinionista Mmusi Maimane

Mr. President, in three critical matters: lead, or step aside

  • Mmusi Maimane
    Mmusi Maimane

    Mmusi Maimane is leader of Democratic Alliance. See his Wikipedia profile here.

On Friday this past week, the DA voted against the proposed budget for the Presidency. The reason we opposed the budget is not because we oppose the critical work of the Presidency, but because this budget only throws further funds into governmental black holes like the National Youth Development Agency, and it promotes initiatives which will not have a meaningful impact on the lives of South Africans. Isn't it time that we trimmed the fat by scrapping initiatives that don't yield results so that we can spend money on those that do?

It is time for President Zuma to lead, or step aside.

There are three areas which require the President's urgent attention. These are not the only matters for President Zuma to attend to but they are the most pressing as far as developing South Africa is concerned. President Zuma must show the courage to lead in these areas. But what would real, bold and effective leadership look like in these situations?

The first area where President Zuma can lead is in strong and vocal support of our institutions of democracy. Commonly referred to as Chapter Nine institutions, a number of these institutions are either in crisis or under threat of having their independence undermined.

There are three ways to undermine state institutions. The first is by placing a puppet "yes man" or “yes woman” at the head of the organisation. This is happening at the SABC where the dubious appointment of Hlaudi Motsoeneng places the very integrity of the SABC at risk. With Motsoeneng at the helm, the SABC will be accountable to the ANC, rather than to the people of South Africa. One who owes his lifestyle to his political patrons will undoubtedly respond with fervent support to toe the party line and turn the public broadcaster, the SABC, into a state broadcaster; slowly but surely controlling who and what is broadcast.

In this instance, President Zuma should reprimand Minister Faith Muthambi and call for the clearly irregular appointment of Hlaudi Motsoeneng to be set aside in order to allow for a new and fair appointment process to be followed, or he should step aside. That is what bold leadership looks like.

The other ways to undermine independent institutions is to diminish their powers through legislation and to hamstring their operations by decreasing their funding. Both of these are happening in respect of the Public Protector. In the Parliamentary Justice Committee, there have already been calls for a review of the Public Protector's powers. And if that doesn't work, then the ANC can always just reduce the Public Protector's budget. This has already been suggested by the ANC.

How can President Zuma lead on this matter? Quite simply.

As the subject of a Public Protector investigation himself, President Zuma should publicly submit himself to the Parliamentary inquest on Nkandla. President Zuma should commit to dealing with the corruption that is on his very doorstep. He could come out boldly for the swift and efficient resolution of the investigation, yet he rather undermines the investigation by delaying his reply, even missing his own deadlines. On Nkandla, the president has an opportunity to not only speak about respect for one another in the State but to lead by actively showing respect for the Public Protector, Parliament and the rule of law.

As an elder and role model to millions of South Africans who still look up to the office of the president, such proactive conduct should be forthcoming by a sitting president who himself chooses to lecture Parliament on respect, as he did on Friday.

In the words of Nelson Mandela: "It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership."

Nkandla is a danger, not just for the ANC but for the country. It is a time when our president must step up and lead the fight on corruption from the front – now that there is danger. Yet all we have seen from President Zuma is a president who hides behind his legal advisors and a farcical SIU investigation.

A president who leads from the front when there is trouble is a president who would call on the Speaker to re-establish the ad hoc committee on Nkandla so that the matter can be dealt with once and for all, or step aside.

This kind of Presidential behaviour - of true leadership - is sorely lacking from President Zuma and it is evident in the third area that requires President Zuma's urgent attention: the economy.

On numerous occasions in the past, the DA has called on President Zuma to send job-killing bills such as the Labour Relations Amendment Bill, the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Amendment Bill and the Private Security Industry Regulation Bill (PSIRA Bill) back to Parliament. These Bills do not only make it more difficult for business people to navigate the gauntlet of regulations to do business, but they also throw any future and/or continued investment away.

This is what Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa described as the "investment strike" in his speech last Wednesday. But what reasonable person - who has capital and is looking to invest - would invest in a country where, with the stroke of a pen, more than half of your capital investment can be expropriated from you - as is the case with the PSIRA Bill?

President Zuma and Deputy President Ramaphosa must face the economic reality that unless government secures the investment of capital in South Africa so that it remains in South Africa as a pro-business country, then we will never transition from a developing country to a developed country.

To do this, President Zuma must empower the Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation within the Presidency to whip up Cabinet - particularly the Departments of Trade & Industry, Economic Development, Small Businesses, and Mineral Resources - so that they fearlessly pursue the implementation of the National Development Plan.

By doing this we can restore the hope of South Africa in the eyes of our youth. They will not need an organisation such as the NYDA in which to vest their hopes; their hopes will be secure in the mainstream economy and a government that delivers opportunities for all.

These are just a few of the reasons why the DA could not reasonably be expected to vote in favour of the Presidency's budget. Our nation requires leadership. A president on the front lines, fighting the dangers that threaten the development of South Africa by protecting state institutions, fighting corruption and creating economic opportunities for all South Africans.

In the DA we want to see South Africans progress in a well-developed nation instead of chugging along as a developmental state with no goal in sight. To get there, the choice for President Zuma is simple: lead, or step aside. DM

  • Mmusi Maimane
    Mmusi Maimane

    Mmusi Maimane is leader of Democratic Alliance. See his Wikipedia profile here.

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