The commonalities of a blind leader and his followers are that both of them are blind, which is the obvious part, but also that their destination is similar. According to Jesus, both the leader and his followers are heading for a ditch. I was considering this recently when reflecting on events that are taking place in South Africa. These are events that are shocking and very difficult to fathom.
The first is about a pastor who managed to convince his congregants to eat grass in order to ‘get close to God.’ Many of us who are spiritual leaders struggle to get people to show up for a prayer meeting and yet someone succeeds in getting his followers to eat grass? How did this man get it right? He either knows something about leadership which most of us are blind to, or he has mastered the art of manipulation.
On Facebook I followed the comments of members of this ‘grass-eating church’ and I was expecting people to be contrite and embarrassed because of the negative publicity they have been receiving. On the contrary, they were basking in the ‘free publicity’ and even boasting that e-tv showed up with their cameras to capture one of their services. To them this was an opportunity for the gospel — or their version of it — to go out.
One of them even responded to my post and lectured me on my ‘lack of understanding and spiritual ignorance.’ To this lady and those of her ilk, their ‘man of God’ has done no wrong and in fact is being vilified by people who are jealous of his anointing. I have concluded that people like these suffer from the ‘big man – small people syndrome’. These are people who follow a leader blindly and in fact hero-worship a man.
Small people have an inferiority complex and see in their leaders what they desire to be but know that they can never be. When the big man stands before them, small people suspend their logic and allow the big to think for them. The big man is the purveyor of knowledge and his relationship with God cannot be surpassed or replicated. Small people do not question the big man and never call him to account because he can do no wrong.
The ‘big man – small people syndrome’ can also be seen in our politics. We have a big man in South Africa who is a discredited leader but has followers who have an insatiable appetite for abuse and deception. Here I am referring to President Jacob Zuma, a man that the Sunday Times crowned as the Mampara of the year for 2013. The word ‘mampara’ means a fool and the President received a similar accolade from The Herald as the ‘Hooligan of the year’.
Personally I am embarrassed by the antics of our President and his cabal of yes-men. The explanations given for the expenditure of R206 million for security upgrades in the President’s private home are preposterous. There are people whose job now in government is to defend the indefensible. Was the booing of the President during the memorial service of Madiba a sign that some followers are now tired of the charade?
I understand the booing as people letting off built-up frustration with a man who has stumbled from one scandal to another. This is a man who could possibly end up as the worst president of our democratic era and this should concern his troop of loyal followers. I have just realised that I know very little about the machinations of following and let alone those of leading.
How do you swear allegiance to a man who is leading all of us into a ditch? The fact that he even became a president reveals how low our standards are. It is perhaps not fair to blame blind leaders without also apportioning blame to blind followers.
Blind followers are people who are more loyal to a person than to principles. They are more partisan than patriotic. They practice a romanticised version of politics that is self-serving and deficient of values. These are toxic politics of race and tribalism and they are detrimental to nationhood. In 2014 I pray that God will deliver us from blind leaders and their equally blind followers.