Time to govern without re-election pressure
South Africa is suffering a crisis of leadership. In these difficult days, we want the president to give the nation hope to overcome despair.
Yet he has failed to match the power of his office with a sense of purpose.
The president has fulfilled his statutory responsibility to present the presidency’s budget, but his speech lacked leadership and vision.
Everyone knows that the biggest tragedy of our time is unemployment. The nation is crying out for action and action now. The entire nation is, therefore, asking whether the president uses power or power uses him.
Public debate centres on the person who wears the crown, yet we know that this presidency was purchased by a coalition of the discontented at Polokwane. The outcome meant that the president’s term of office has been directed by remote control.
The operators are as diverse as the unelected Cosatu, the South African Communist Party and a shadowy “state within a state” in the security services. This has led to multiple policy contradictions and widespread confusion at the heart of government.
Indeed, the only place in which jobs seem to have been created is in the presidency itself. The president created two additional ministries and must constantly expand his office in order to pay his political debts.The South African taxpayer’s support for the president more than doubled, from R43-million in 2009-2010 to nearly R90-million in 2010-2011.
The president’s lavish instincts were borne out when he replied to my question last week that he did not see anything wrong with politicians applying for government tenders. We already know that a Coastu investment fund benefited from e-tolling in Gauteng, despite the trade union’s opposition to the system.
The president has failed to demonstrate leadership in the worst-ever global recession. His government presents two economic plans. There is Trevor Manuel’s national development plan. Then there is Ebrahim Patel’s new growth path.
This failure of leadership is causing havoc on the “frontline” of the economy – where real people live. In times past, citizens looked to the president to propose bold solutions to big problems. Their faith has been shaken and the president must restore it by showing leadership.
The president’s greatest task is to get young people into employment. Last year he set the bold target of putting 500000 people to work. This deadline came and went. Another deadline also came and went: the introduction of the youth wage subsidy.
No one in the government or in the Democratic Alliance who supports the youth wage subsidy has claimed it will make unemployment disappear. It will, however, give many young people dignity and a foothold on the ladder of opportunity. The issue of youth unemployment will, perhaps more than any other, define this presidency.
Tragedy for the nation
If the president seeks to define a vision, he will need to reacquaint himself with the foundational bedrock of the republic: the Constitution and its Bill of Rights.
It is the president, not the human rights-inspired Constitution, who has let down South Africa. It is a tragedy for the nation, and the president personally, that the government of the day seeks to overturn the very document that would frame his vision.
A constitutional democracy like ours is predicated on accountability and transparency. The president has time and time again failed the constitutional test of accountability on which our entire system of government is built.
A titanic power struggle is enveloping the security services and the president’s role is, as usual, unclear. The chess pieces, we now know, are senior police management, the intelligence services and the National Prosecuting Authority. When one strips down the never-ending saga of Richard Mdluli, who was again suspended, a basic question emerges: Why would someone facing such serious charges be allowed to occupy a senior post in the police service?
Why is it that the courts constantly have to uphold the Constitution and compel the government to do the right thing while ministers try to bully them into submission?
I would like to ask the president: Does doing what is right simply because it is right play any role in the matrix of the government any more? Does the presidency strive to create a culture of accountability in which public officials are the servants and the people are the masters?
Increasingly, the president’s actions – and what he fails to do – are hardening the perception that his own political needs trump service delivery and the rule of law. The president should be using the full powers of his executive office to investigate suspected criminal activity by Mdluli and others.
The president presides over a sinister, secret “state within the state”, at the apex of which he stands. His problem is that he constantly has to reshuffle the security services like a deck of cards to stay on top. The commission of inquiry into the arms deal underlines this. Why is it that the president finds it so hard to say that Judge Willie Seriti’s report will be made available to the public as soon as he receives it?
The president would not, as he claims, be pre-empting the findings of the commission. He would be upholding the principles of transparency and accountability – and rebuilding public trust. Will the president reconsider and authorise Judge Seriti to release the full, unexpunged report to the public?
The president’s indecision extends to international relations and foreign policy. Our president must be the first head of state in history to fly to the United Nations in New York with three jets – and not one foreign policy brief among them.
Is the president committed to the “responsibility to protect” in countries such as Syria today? Or does he believe that a nation’s sovereignty is sacred, as he suggested during the Libyan campaign?
It is clear to every South African that the president is forced to bow before the unelected Cosatu and others. He is unable to drive policy that runs counter to the interests of the disparate factions that brought him to power. He will never be able to stamp his authority on his government because these factions do not share a common purpose.
There is an argument that the internal practices of the ANC are an internal issue. I say that whoever holds the office of president is first a South African, a public servant – and only then a member of their political party.
The president has failed to provide a justification for why he would seek a second term when his first term has fallen so far short of South Africa’s minimum expectations.
I therefore ask the president to look deep within his heart to answer a difficult question – the most difficult of all. Such honesty takes raw courage.
In the interest of the country, I ask the president this: Would he consider putting aside self-interest, at the ANC elective conference later this year, by not making himself available to serve a second term?
This is what the people of South Africa want and what many people in his party want. There are deep divisions in South Africa and in the ANC house today and the president cannot overcome them.
The greatest test of leadership is to know when to give it up and pass the torch to a new generation.
The challenges of the government and youth employment require the president to devote every hour of every day for the remainder of his term to deal with them. If unavailable for re-election, he would not face the relentless pressure of trying to get re-elected in what is set to be a brutal and protracted struggle for power.
He would be free to govern as a head of state, unconstrained by his party’s alliance partners, who have done so much to frustrate him. If he did so, he would have an opportunity to put his undoubted talents of warm-heartedness, compassion and conflict resolution back into the service of our great nation.
South Africa can still prevail and prosper, and its bounds grow ever wider, for ours is a great country.
This is an edited version of the speech given by Lindiwe Mazibuko on May 30 in response to the presidency budget vote