The Constitutional Court finding against President Jacob Zuma on the Nkandla matter is generating a lot of talk and will no doubt continue to do so for some time to come. The judgment was clear and unequivocal regarding Zuma’s failure to fully uphold the country’s constitution and it comes on the heels of the controversy surrounding accusations of state capture by the politically connected Gupta family.
As to be expected the ANC has rallied around Zuma but they are now getting increasingly isolated with even some party veterans calling for the president to step down. Zuma has survived many scandals and seems to be the proverbial cat with many lives. But I don’t see him surviving or giggling himself through this current one. Following the defeat of their motion of no confidence opposition parties are upping their game against Zuma.
On top of this civil society groups and churches are weighing in on the matter by also calling for Zuma’s resignation. The apology offered by the president last week clearly is not having the desired effect and I think the issue is his integrity. Remember Zuma once claimed to have a bond on Nkandla and this was proven to be false. He, like King Saul of old, does not take responsibility for his actions and neither is he known for genuine contrition.
Warts have grown
But the issue is not just about Zuma but about all of us. We have a propensity to elect bad leaders because Zuma had glaring signs of weakness from the onset. Again, like King Saul, there were clear signs that our political incumbent has weak moral judgment and is self-serving but many South Africans, including some now calling for Zuma to resign, said they wanted him – warts and all. Well his warts have grown since being sworn into office and we are worse off as a result.
The rand has weakened against major currencies, the cost of living is increasing, our education is underperforming and on top of that we have the threat of an investment downgrade hanging over us. We are basically a ship sailing through treacherous conditions with a captain who has lost his compass. He takes arbitrary decisions that are detrimental to the country’s interests while his own family continues to accumulate wealth through dubious means.
What can we do about this? Well, constitutional law expert Professor Pierre De Vos, in last week’s Sunday Times says that it is ultimately citizens who “use their vote either to censure or reward political behaviour.” The first thing we must do is to stop rewarding bad political behaviour by restoring sense to our selection of leaders. Sense must triumph over sentiment if South Africa is to move forward.
Secondly we must do away with a false dichotomy between the political parties we choose and the decisions taken by those parties. We empower parties to act on our behalf and therefore if their actions betray our values we should act against the political parties. During the upcoming local government elections on August 3rd we will have an opportunity to censure or reward the behaviour of our parties.
Wisdom needed at ballot box
Thirdly we must stop giving allegiance to a leader and instead give it to good leadership. Our obsession should not be the man but his manners. It should not be his charisma but his character. We must be relentless in our desire for good leadership, regardless of which side of the political or even racial divide it comes from. Proverbs 28:12 says, “When good people are promoted, everything is great, but when the bad are in charge, watch out” (The Message).
Ultimately the ructions we are experiencing are not about the man Jacob Zuma but about the country and its future. De Vos says that citizens sometimes use “their immense power wisely. Sometimes they do not.” May we be wise this time by putting good leaders into power.