Zuma's leadership an empty shell

President Jacob Zuma. (Mike Hutchings, Reuters)

President Jacob Zuma. (Mike Hutchings, Reuters)

President Jacob Zuma last week grumbled about too many people wanting to govern South Africa. Actually, all the country's citizens are doing is seeking the leadership they deserve.

“The problem in South Africa is that everyone wants to run the country,” Zuma said at the memorial last week for the South African National Defence Force soldiers who were slain in the Central African Republic (CAR) in late March.

“Military matters are military matters. They are not social matters and I wish South Africans would appreciate that and therefore know which line not to cross, for the sake of the country.”

The president’s utterances were not only alarming as they encapsulated the antithesis of our constitutional democracy – of which civilian oversight is a fundamental part – but the comments also called his own track record as president into question.

There have been some national gains since his 2009 inauguration, but Zuma has failed to provide leadership when it mattered most.

Progress such as the elevation to the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) group and the delivery of a successful 2010 World Cup have been overshadowed by stubborn unemployment rate that has coagulated poverty across the country and, more recently, by savage acts of brutality from the country’s police force.

The challenges facing the country are certainly not all of Zuma’s making, but the president has done little to address the most serious issues that inhibit South Africa’s progress.

As chief executive of South Africa Incorporated, Zuma should be tackling our problems head on, ensuring accountability for the failures of his government and inspiring his people with his leadership.

But an inspection of the president’s actions in this regard leaves much to be desired in a time when the country is in dire need of a leader they need not ask to govern.

Education crisis
The Limpopo textbook crisis was a case that illustrated Zuma’s botched leadership.

For the better part of 2012, a large number of public school learners were left without textbooks vital to their studies.

The state was sluggish in addressing the problem, at first denying there was any issue and books were dumped and burnt in an apparent attempt to dispose of evidence that learning material had not already been delivered.

Zuma ensured a task team was assembled to investigate the issue but did nothing more than defend Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga when pushed to act on the matter.

The president even failed to acknowledge there was a problem in the first place, blaming the current state of the South African education system on the legacy of apartheid.

"What is happening today is what Verwoerd did, where the black majority were historically not given education," he said in a radio interview at the height of the crisis.

The basic education department eventually claimed all textbooks were delivered in October, only after education nongovernmental organisation Section 27 took the department to court.

A May 17 court order ruled that the department's failure to provide pupils with textbooks was a violation of the right to basic education and ordered the department to deliver textbooks post haste.

Had Zuma intervened when the matter first came to light, court action might have been prevented.

Legal dawdling
Another case of shoddy leadership on the president’s part was the on-going vacancies at the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

His failure to appoint permanent leaders at the NPA and Special Investigating Unit (SIU) for more than 15 months has left important bodies within the criminal justice system rudderless.

Since December 2011, advocate Nomgcobo Jiba has been acting as national director of public prosecutions of the NPA and advocate Nomvula Mokhatla has filled the post of acting head of the SIU.

Under Jiba's watch, the NPA has run into legal woes regarding Zuma's corruption trial and she has been lambasted for suspending anti-corruption prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach.

During her term, the prosecuting body also ran short of money to fund Legal Aid.

With Mokhatla at the helm, the SIU became embroiled in a public spat with the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union over the appointment of staff and ended a contract that guaranteed auditing expertise in its investigations.

Zuma announced in his State of the Nation speech in February that “all vacant posts at the upper echelons of the criminal justice system” would be filled to boost the fight against corruption.

But the president continued to leave these vital posts with temporary heads, with his spokesperson Mac Maharaj claiming Zuma was “still applying his mind".

If the president moved swiftly and kept his promise to fill these posts, South Africans might rest a little easier knowing that vital components of the justice system were operating to their optimum.

Nkandla denial
The state-sponsored (security) upgrades of Zuma’s rural homestead in Nkandla have been well documented and offered a further view on the president’s poor management of the country.

His first response to allegations that over R200-million was spent on improvements to his residence was that he did not know and could not be blamed for government carrying out work they deemed necessary.

The president then encouraged South Africans to await the outcome of the investigations initiated into the matter, claiming that justice should take its course.

But when he was eventually forced to address the matter in Parliament, Zuma was venomous in his response to allegations that the state funded his private residence. 

"Government did not build a home for me.
It is unfair, and I don't want to use harsher words because you believe that people like me can't build a home," he said.

Thus far only the department of public works’s internal investigation into the matter has been completed and it claims all work carried out in Nkandla was above board and commensurate with what was needed to secure a national key point.

The public protector and auditor general must both still complete their respective investigations.

It would be a wiser and more mature move for a leader to take the nation into his confidence and subject himself to an open and transparent investigation without quibble – especially if he has nothing to hide.

Marikana farce
The prime example of Zuma’s failure to provide leadership when it mattered occurred around the Marikana killings.

The president expressed shock and dismay at the fatal shooting of 34 miners by police during a labour dispute at Lonmin's platinum mine near Rustenburg.

He also returned early from a Southern African Development Community conference in Mozambique and hastily initiated the Farlam commission of enquiry into the incident.

“Today is not an occasion for blame, finger-pointing or recrimination. Today challenges us to restore calm and to share the pain of the affected families and communities,” he said.

But Zuma waited six days until visiting the surviving miners at the site where their comrades were killed.

After that day Zuma did nothing but watch from the sidelines as former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema used the opportunity to transformed the tragedy into a political circus.

Seemingly powerless to act against his political adversary, the president was content to let a team of ministers deal with the unfolding mess.

Essentially, the president shirked his duty as South Africa’s number one citizen and it seems as if he is blatantly doing the same in the wake of the South African National Defence Force's casualties in the Central African Republic.

Instead of addressing the issue at hand, the president attacked the manner in which the death of 13 South Africans was being scrutinised.

Zuma has demanded he be given the space to govern South Africa when it is plainly clear he is not adequately doing so.

Instead of being humble and open about his leadership, he has told the country to mind their own business and leave matters to him and the government.

Hence, Mr President, the people are not power hungry and trying to take your job. They are merely urging you to do yours.

Nickolaus Bauer

Nickolaus Bauer

Nickolaus Bauer is the Mail & Guardian's jack of all trades news reporter that chases down stories ranging from politics and sports to big business and social justice. Armed with an iPad, SLR camera, camcorder and dictaphone, he aims to fight ignorance and pessimism through written words, photographs and videos. He believes South Africa could be the greatest country in the world if only her citizens would give her a chance to flourish instead of dwell on the negativity. When he's not begging his sub-editors for an extra twenty minutes after deadline, he's also known to dabble in the occasional poignant column that will leave you mulling around in the depths of your psyche. The quintessential workaholic, you can also catch him doing sports on the weekday breakfast show on SAfm and presenting the SAfm Sports Special over the weekend. Read more from Nickolaus Bauer

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