Opinionista Rev Lawrence Mduduzi Ndlovu 13 December 2015

Presidential leadership is about trust

What we have witnessed with the removal from office of Nhlanhla Nene, has gone beyond the usual inter-party politicking and criticism. We have now moved into the realm of the infringement of the fundamental agreement – the breach of trust. It is also a sad irony that the once mighty ANC, that has always been associated with bravery, is now full of people who can barely open their mouths, let alone shake their heads.

In any position or opportunity of leadership, it is important to remember it is fundamentally a relationship of trust. When people vote for a particular party and, indeed, a person, it is because they trust those persons will safeguard that which is of importance to them – especially the case of the state, and all that is connected to it. This relationship is therefore also a relationship based on the closeness to shared interest. It is fixed to a place (South Africa) and even ideological. This means that those who are tasked with executing and defending the hope and aspirations of the people gain their power from the very people who placed them there.

What we are experiencing in South Africa has gone beyond the usual inter-party politicking and criticism. We have now moved into the realm of the infringement of the fundamental agreement – the relationship of trust. This infringement is best expressed by the decision to fire the Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene. First, it would seem to me, and indeed to many, that Nene was doing a fine job, given the conditions he had to work under. Second, the decision of fire him has had an adverse reaction on the markets, and now contributes to the overt tumult that the South African economy is experiencing. The act of removing Nene has made it clear that President Jacob Zuma did not have the interests of the country in mind when he fired Nene. Whatever the reasons, whether he acted out of malice or good intension, the removal of Nene from office has been absolutely no good for the country.

Zuma’s action, in some ways, is consistent with the statement that the ANC come first, before the country. In this very sad case, it would seem not even the ANC comes first. When a leader makes a decision that has no good outcome, not even for his constituency, the same constituency that elected him on the basis of trust, his true priorities become immediately apparent.

With that said, true leadership is one that seeks at all times to achieve the highest common good, so that even if there is criticism, there are those, preferably the majority, who benefit form that decision. Any form of ethical interrogation on every decision, whether small or major, is important for leadership. Failure to apply any ethical reflection means that issues of the common good and the promotion of human dignity are not the fundamental drivers of all the decisions taken. Therefore, the very values that the Constitution is trying to uphold are undermined by the very people who are meant to promote and defend them.

Interestingly the Constitution includes, as part of the State Presidents duties, to promote the unity of the nation, and that which will advance the Republic (Chapter 5 85.c). The axing of Nene, and indeed other decisions before it – I need not count all the shenanigans – has evidently nothing to do with unity of a nation nor advancing the Republic.

Another area of concern is the great silence coming of ANC. This corporate façade which agrees with everything that the executive does, and goes to great length to defend everything that the executive says and does is in itself a bizarre behaviour. It might seem like unity to the ANC, but it screams discontent to those who look from the outside. The problem with such silence is that it is not a sign of strength, but of weakness and weakens the party as a mere gathering of toothless people who are only interested in keeping their own jobs, to a point where they are not prepared to engage in issues of justice and the common good. This might seem like an unfair statement, but the silence of those who are in government is shocking. The only voices crying in the wilderness are the voices of the likes of Mavuso Msimang, Trevor Manuel, Reverend Frank Chikane, and recently, Shaka Sisulu and Barbara Hogan, none of whom are in government. To say that those in government are toothless is not unfair.

Another dimension which is even more worrisome is that underlining all of this lack of action and opposition is that there is evidently fear. Fear can be crippling especially when it is clear that anyone can lose their job anytime. It is sad because for many of these people the ANC has been their life and they have been in one portfolio or another since 1994. The thought that they can be sacked means that they would be cast out into the cold – that is scary. It is a sad irony that the once mighty ANC, that has always been associated with bravery, is now full of people who can barely open their mouths, let alone shake their heads.

In the end Zuma, who was sold to the nation as a man of the people, as opposed to the lofty and distant Thabo Mbeki, is in fact the same man who cannot hear nor understand the worries and anxieties of the very people he is apparently close to. It would seem the closeness to the people is now gone, and the gap between government and the people has become painfully wide. The brazen impunity through which many acts of thuggery have been committed is a clear indication the relationship of trust has broken down. DM

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