We have convinced each other that the rot, decay and malfeasance are confined to those who are splashed across the front pages of our newspapers and in the headlines of our breaking news bulletins. But the truth that we dare not admit is that the entire value chain has been compromised and that on every level there is a vacuum of leadership.
South Africa is at risk not simply because of the scandal-prone Zuma years but rather because we have elected to not act. Some of us are comfortable to speak from the sidelines while others have simply checked out, comfortably insulated from the unravelling social contract that is highlighted each day.
The scandal and intrigue may be interesting and in time to come will tell a tale of collapse, but that tale does not help those who are already trapped in a cycle of despair. The inaction and indifference tragically impacts on those South Africans who are struggling each day to survive, trapped in a cycle of despair and hopelessness.
On Monday this week, President Zuma would make opening remarks at a forum convened to discuss the “country’s higher education system”; however, as soon as those remarks had been given our president, leader of this Republic, would leave the forum. Zuma should have stayed in the room to provide leadership on the issue but we all know that he is unable to do so. Instead, our president delegated leadership to those left seated at Emperors Palace in Kempton Park.
The current dialogue around access to higher education must be rooted in the broader conversation of our social contract, and the overarching pressure points of inequality, unemployment and the inability of leaders to have nuanced conversations, which is exacerbating the current crisis and impasse.
Instead, we have leaders who see communication and their own leadership as events confined to “opening remarks” and empty platitudes. This approach is not isolated. Rather, the conduct of our president reflects a persistent trend which sees a leader arrive, at great expense, at a venue for some imbizo or discussion, only to make a few perfunctory remarks and then for that leader to be whisked away without meaningfully addressing or solving any of the issues.
In fact, no meaningful leadership or even an attempt at demonstrating leadership is even offered to solve our growing list of critical issues. Access to higher education is not simply an issue about students protesting across the country under the banner of #FeesMustFall but rather it is reflective of a far deeper decay in both the leadership quotient and our inability to craft real solutions that can be implemented.
It is not enough for Zuma and Blade Nzimande, our Minister of Higher Education and Training, to speak on Monday at the Higher Education Stakeholder Summit when the collective leadership of our government has been absent for an entire year since last year’s #FeesMustFall protests.
It is equally disingenuous and of no real value for them to now resolve that our universities must be reopened without confronting the bigger and more important issue that our society must tackle.
We must meaningfully address what access to higher education would mean, we must build in a suitable means test so that those who can afford to pay fees do so and that those who cannot are adequately provided for in this system.
It is not enough for us to look for short-term solutions so that the current academic year can be saved when that accord would simply compel us all to experience another Groundhog Day because of this vacuum of leadership. The vacuum grows deeper with each day that passes.
This is not simply synonymous with the Zuma years but it is a dangerous trend that has crept both into our lexicon and into our very way of life. The lack of leadership is staggering. We see it in the conduct of our president, in the inability of our Parliament to hold the executive accountable or even to rein in characters such as Jacob Zuma or Hlaudi Motsoeneng or Dudu Myeni or Mosebenzi Zwane. Our Republic is unable to confront and deal with the bad decisions that are made by public servants (and elected office-bearers).
Each day we are poorly served by the lacklustre, self-involved, egotistical and short-sighted leadership that is demonstrated not only in the Zuma government but is also reflected, perhaps to a lesser extent, across our country. We will continue to see the unravelling and, even worse, the ambivalence by many leaders to provide real solutions but simply to provide us with doublespeak riddled with ideological demagoguery.