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Collective leadership means taking collective responsibility – so who’s in Zuma’s inner circle?


Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

It would be farcical to suggest that all our woes are because of one man called Jacob Zuma. Of course, under his non leadership, the country has been plunged into chaos of all imaginable proportions. But when odd decisions are made by the President, and there have been quite a few, it does beg the question – who is assisting him in making these?

It would be a scary thought if it was all just Jacob Zuma – a lone, crazy man, evidently with an axe to grind, or in our case, a country to run into the ground.

The similarities in the definition of both a psychopath and a sociopath are persons who:

  • Regularly break or flout the law;
  • Constantly lie and deceive others;
  • Are impulsive and don’t plan ahead;
  • Can be prone to fighting and aggressiveness;
  • Have little regard for the safety of others;
  • Are irresponsible, can’t meet financial obligations; and last but not least,
  • Don’t feel remorse or guilt.

If such a man is the one that makes decisions on our behalf, I shudder. The Chief Commander of the Armed Forces, the first citizen, the President of the Republic of South Africa, our own mad Trump! At least we now know they both have something in common – they both love the Russians.

Nelson Mandela could tap into minds such as Walter Sisulu, a calm figure with immense intellect and tact; Dullah Omar who was his point man when it came to matters of legality; Jakes Gerwel, a consummate right-hand man with integrity; Kader Asmal the intellectual; Frene Ginwala and Cheryl Carolus, both women of substance and all of them ethical in all facets of their lives.  The most important quality however is that Mandela had unlimited access to thinking men and women around him and his Presidency. No wonder he will always be remembered as a Statesman par excellence.

Thabo Mbeki on the other hand could rely on the likes of Dr Essop Pahad, Joel Netshitenzhe, Mojanku Gumbi, Aziz Pahad, Frank Chikane, Mavuso Msimang, Dumisani Kumalo and in no small measure the elders or veterans and their infinite wisdom. Again, men and women of outstanding integrity and ethics. A pool of people the calibre of which remains unmatched thus far in the West Wing.

Did Mandela and Mbeki make mistakes? Of course they did. Did they miscalculate here and there? It goes without saying. But did they steal and plunder? Did they threaten the total collapse of the South African economy? They both enlarged the percentage of votes for the ANC in successive elections and they both grew the membership of the ANC and neither of them lost any metros bar Cape Town. 

We cannot say the same for President Zuma and this current leadership of the ANC.

Even the eight months when President Kgalema Motlanthe had to step in and stabilise the ship, resume our international relations with the UN and Davos, finalise the political agreement between the warring parties in Zimbabwe and give confidence to the entire public service not to implode; even then, we were not in the kind of mess that we are in now. He too could readily tap into the various talents the ANC had to offer so as to inform his decision-making.   

Zuma, though, alienated most of the best brains in the movement, alienated the elders/veterans. He surrounds himself with incompetent people first, and then more alarmingly, with former apartheid collaborators.

Take Richard Mdluli, Berning Ntlemeza and DD Mabusa, to mention but a few.

When looking at the key figures in the Nkosozana Dlamini Zuma faction, assuming they confer with Zuma on matters of state, the Premier League are Ace Magashule, Mabusa, Sihle Zikalala and Supra Mahumapelo. Rub all their brain cells together and maybe you could solve the Pythagorean theorem.   

It is frightening to say the least. Who is in charge of the West Wing, Mr President? 

OR Tambo, a leader revered by all, a statesman, intellectual, a genuinely caring and compassionate person, worked selflessly for his people here in Mzansi. Yes, for both you and me, Mr President. He too could tap into the likes of so many talented people – Joe Slovo, Moses Mabhida, Moses Kotane, Chris Hani, Thabo Mbeki, Pallo Jordan and so many more. 

And then, just for good measure, as we crack our heads over who sits at the table with Zuma, we hear from certain quarters that we must also contend in this equation with the hidden hands of the Russians and the Americans respectively. 

If it is to be believed, we are told that soon we will be taken into confidence by the President and be presented with yet another cock and bull story of espionage on the part of the Deputy President (like we had with Pravin and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas), presumably for the CIA types, and on the other hand, certain quarters tell us that the President and some in his Cabinet are dancing to the tune of the Russians, presumably the KGB types. And what of MI6, I hear some of you ask, weren’t they invited to the party? Well, who knows what the interest of Her Majesty’s Government is in all of this? Proxy wars for control of our resources, fracking, platinum, nuclear deals perhaps?

I’m at a loss. Perhaps there is simply too much analysis, making it unnecessarily complicated, and it’s actually just the President, his son and the Gupta brothers that make all the decisions at the Saxonwold shebeen.  Nothing complicated about that, in fact it would explain a hell of a lot, if you ask me. But what do I know. I’m comforted by the idea that the governing party has a collective leadership and that they will take collective responsibility for executive decisions made on their watch. For they want what every first term administration wants, a second term.

And you, Mr President, want us, the citizens of Mzansi, to be satisfied with your bunch of rascals, half-witted, semi-competent nitwits. I would be the first to admit that indeed there are perhaps one or two very good people but they are drowned out by the numerous misfits. But even those very good people, if they are still in your executive, I question their intellect too, I’m afraid.

It takes only one rotten apple to spoil the bunch, but in your case, who you surround yourself with indicates that the entire orchard is rotten to the core. DM


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