Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
In his recently published book “A Nation in Crisis: An Appeal for Morality”, Professor Paulus Zulu laments that whenever we open a newspaper in South Africa we are confronted with another instance of corruption or another gaffe by senior officials. This speaks, he says, of the moral degeneration in our political sphere that threatens to reverse the gains of democracy.
I will be speaking at the launch of Professor Zulu’s book in Johannesburg next week, for this is an issue close to my heart. Aside from my deep concerns about corruption, I fear that the gaffes so frequently made by senior officials are indicative of more than just incompetence and poorly judged appointments.
Certainly the practice of cadre deployment has fostered an environment in which political gaffes proliferate. But we should do more than shake our heads in bemused incredulity whenever a government spokesperson or senior official makes a statement that contradicts our constitutional values.
We need to question whether such statements are genuinely underpinned by racism, or antagonism to democracy, or the notion that the ANC is above the law or above reproach and questioning.
President Zuma’s off-the-cuff remarks at Wits University this week as he tried to defend the eToll system should not be brushed aside by the presidential spin doctors. In pointing out that Johannesburg is the financial hub of South Africa, the President said, “This is not some national road in Malawi”. Reinforcing his meaning, he said, “We cannot think like Africans in Africa…”
Before President Zuma began his term of office, I proposed a Constitutional Amendment Bill to separate the Head of State from the Head of Government. This would have given us both a President and a Prime Minister at the 2009 elections.
I emphasised that this was about the dignity of the office of the President and the strengthening of our constitutional system.
In our current executive system, our Head of State, the President, is also our Head of Government. He carries final responsibility for all actions of Government. When Government is attacked or criticized, he is responsible. When people strike, they protest against the President himself. This undermines the dignity of the President and weakens our constitutional system.
Our President, I explained, should be above reproach. He should operate above politics, balancing and supervising the dynamics of politics and the functioning of government institutions. He should be an umpire, not a player, in the domestic arena, and in the international arena he should represent the entire country.
My proposal was shut down by the ruling Party, and now, six years later, we have a President whose office cannot be separated from the political scandals and allegations, the corruption and gaffes of the ANC-led Government.
Worse still is that we have a President who, in the international arena, causes South Africa embarrassment.
We have come a long way from President Mandela, the dignified mediator on the African continent. We have come a long way from President Mbeki, who instilled such pride with his declaration “I am an African”. What we have now is a Head of State who believes Africa is backward, both in its thinking and in what is has to offer.
How is President Joyce Banda to receive President Zuma’s comments? What must she make of this insult?
I can’t help but think how the ANC Women’s League recently repeated their strange protestation that there is no woman in South Africa capable of leading our country as the President. That, they said, is generally the case throughout Africa.
Yet the very country that President Zuma disparages has a quite remarkable female President. President Banda, it has been pointed out, had the courage to disband her entire Cabinet when it became apparent that corruption was rife.
Corruption in our own country has become a national crisis. But would President Zuma ever have the courage to do as President Banda did?
South Africa called again and again for the removal of the Minister of Basic Education, considering the parlous state of our education system in which textbooks are dumped instead of delivered, teachers abandon classrooms to go on strike, and graduating learners often cannot read or do maths. Yet in response to the resounding call from civil society, President Zuma’s Cabinet congratulated the Minister for doing such a marvellous job.
President Zuma’s disparaging statements about Malawi explicitly expose his negative view of the continent beyond our borders. But do they also betray his thoughts on women leadership?
This is not the President’s first gaffe when it comes to women. Last year, when interviewed by Mr Dali Tambo, he said that women must marry and must have children, as a means of getting “extra training”. In 2008, he declared that young girls who fall pregnant should be separated from their babies until they are educated. This makes no sense from a moral, economic or social perspective.
It smacks of punishment and discrimination.
The longer the ANC stays entrenched in the seat of power, the more arrogant they become. Believing the ANC could never be wrong, they are starting to speak their minds instead of speaking the language of our Constitution. It’s time to uproot the ruling Party.
Yours in the service of our nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP