Opinionista Lebo Keswa 16 February 2015

If I were President Zuma…

There are so many ways the president could have acted differently, both to prevent the outrage that erupted at SONA last week, and in the subsequent handling of the disaster. Unfortunately it doesn’t look as though things are going to change any time soon. But hey, one can dream.

It is often said that we must separate the office of the president from the person who holds that office. Obviously this is difficult to do, and not everybody does it.

Those who do do it possibly do so because it’s necessary to numb themselves into according respect to someone who has no longer earned it. Someone who holds this office, but who does not command the respect that goes with such a high rank. Out of nobody’s doing but their own.

The mismanagement of the Presidency as an office in our country has gone far enough. The list of transgressions by our own president is endless. And the pinnacle was the SONA address.

A horrendous event in the history of our country unfolded in the presence of our head of state, and all he did was to carry on as though nothing had happened. It was shocking. It did not occur to President Zuma that this was perhaps an opportunity to come clean with the nation or even address the nation with what it might need to hear – not in general, nor about what had just happened.

If I were the president, I would not have compromised, nor hidden behind a woman whose fitness for office as the Speaker is still being debated, especially when the party is still apparently trying to make up its mind about whether women are even fit for leadership. The whole affair was vintage Zuma: he was there to deliver his SONA address and nothing, not even violence breaking out under his nose in the chamber, or half the representatives of the House, would deter him. He was a man on a mission, there to tell us his Good Story of his government, and not violence nor catastrophe would stop him. It was, quite simply, the height of his mismanagement of the land.

In this context, one can only wonder what really happened at Marikana, although it will not do to dwell on it here – suffice to say that dishonesty, disregard and insults to the citizens of this country are, apparently, the norm. Is this really the trend it appears to be? What a fascinating insight into how our country operates and what the most powerful figures in the land do behind the scenes in times of crisis.

Here is what I would have done if I were President Zuma. (I might be a humble citizen – but maybe he will surprise me yet, and listen to what the citizens say.)

  1. I would have called for a meeting with the EFF to discuss paying back the money, long before SONA. Why wait for the crisis, and set yourselves up for public humiliation and conflict?
  2. I would have supported the peace deal between the EFF and the ANC, so that I could go down as the president who pacified the firebrands of the EFF – not the one who watched his SONA be disrupted by violence!
  3. I would have supported the mediation by religious leaders, helping everyone save face and preventing scenes of military dictatorship that will now be beamed across the world.
  4. Had the above failed and the DA still walked out, I would have requested an adjournment of the House, summoning political leaders to my office for a quiet word. I would have negotiated with them to return, displaying a spirit of reconciliation and leadership.
  5. I would have abandoned my tired old “good story” – and had the violence actually erupted, despite points 1 – 4, I would have abandoned my written speech too. Instead, I would have addressed the nation on what had just occurred and urged the country to come together instead of supporting and furthering the chaos that the EFF introduced.
  6. Most importantly, given my previous transgressions during my tenure, I would have handed in my resignation as president. I would have stepped down. I would say: Bakithi, it is better for the country and the ANC if I were no longer president. I am costing my party votes. Moreover, I am patriotic, and therefore I will do the right thing, for the love of my country and my fellow men and women. I will not compromise this great liberation organisation more than I already have. And I would do it without that infamous laugh, or reshuffling the Cabinet!

But then, I am not President Jacob G. Zuma. One can dream. DM

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