Taking President Jacob Zuma seriously

 by Jovial Rantao

WHY are we surprised when some section of the British nation, as demonstrated by some of their newspapers, don’t take President Jacob Zuma seriously?

Why are we shocked and even angered when Fleet Street has found our head of state to be less than deserving of respect?

Why are we taken aback when they have ignored Zuma’s objective of the state visit – read trade mission – and turned him into an object of ridicule and scorn?

Zuma gets the same treatment here at home.  If there is anyone who fails to take Zuma seriously, it is the ANC, the party that eleced him president at a national conference in Polokwane two years ago.

Yes, the ANC. If it did take Zuma seriously, it would protect him from himself and from others within the party who have openly shown the ANC president the middle finger.

Leading the charge has been the ANC enfant terrible and self-styled kingmaker, Julius Malema.

No one has ever openly defied Zuma and the ANC like Malema has. In the most recent incident, Malema broke political tradition and took on a minister serving in Zuma’s cabinet.  The issue? The nationalisation of mines.
Minerals and Energy Minister Susan Shabangu said nationalisation was not the policy of the ANC-led government.

Granted, she went a bit overboard when she added “not in my lifetime” – but Malema publicly contradicted the minister, who is his political senior by far. While the ANC Youth League, led by Malema, has every right to raise a debate on any matter, including nationalisation, it is political protocol that ANC members should not contradict each other in public, particularly on a matter as sensitive as nationalisation, sending conflicting signals to investors.

What was surprising was that when the ANC responded, through its secretary- general Gwede Mantashe, it steered clear of rapping Malema on the knuckles. Instead, Mantashe fudged the explanation.

A few days later, ANC treasurer-general Mathews Phosa, on a visit to London to speak to big business and investors, repeated what Shabangu had said. Nationalisation of the mines was not ANC policy and the matter was not up for discussion, he assured.

Soon thereafter, Zuma stood in Parliament during the State of the Nation speech and repeated what Shabangu and Phosa had said. In politics, when the president speaks, he lays down the line and no one should contradict him or her.

The words were probably still ringing in the ears of potential investors when Malema struck.

Speaking in public, Malema showed Zuma naked disrespect.

And no one, not even Zuma himself, said anything about what Malema said or his conduct. Their silence was deafening. If the ANC takes Zuma seriously, it must do a few things, urgently. First and foremost, the party must be tough on Zuma – for Zuma’s sake.

I am sure that the president appointed members of the cabinet, special advisers and a host of others around him so that these individuals can advise him on an array of issues. These people were not appointed to be praise-singers. Their duty must be, among others, to make sure that the president does not make mistakes, at least in public.

If Zuma was a dictator, he would not have all these people around him. The leadership of the ANC and those in the cabinet must be extra tough on Zuma. It is they would must ensure the nation is spared from embarrassment.

They must be bold, and tell him when he does things that bring shame to himself, the government he leads, the ANC and the nation. There is no evidence that any of them have indicated to Zuma the damage his private life is causing to his presidency.

Those around Zuma can also show that they take him seriously by, among other things, insisting on seeing his speeches before they are delivered.

If they did this, the embarrassment that was the State of the Nation address would have been avoided.  They must assist Zuma by making sure that he is not only decisive, but is seen to be so by the public. The business of him going to places and saying what people want to hear should stop. He cannot please every citizen.

The mark of a good leader is the ability to make the right decision, even if it is unpopular, because it benefits the nation and its people.  Zuma must also show that he takes himself seriously.

He can do so by being tough on himself, and start by getting rid of the many hangers-on and benefactors who, on the surface, seem to be bankrolling his family.

Source: www.thestar.co.za, 20100305

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