Imagine your boy child returning innocently from school one afternoon: “Mommy, I want to be like Jacob Zuma when I grow up.” What do you think many honest parents would say?
As we promised last Monday, today we focus on Zuma and society. Next week, we shall turn our analytical spotlight to Zuma and government.
Again, it is not difficult to imagine livid protests from die-hard members of the ANC: “You have no right to lecture us about our president; we love him as he is.”
Indeed, analysts who reflect critically on Zuma are often dismissed as people who hate the president.
The people who are quick to scream “hatred” think that analysis is “The Bold and the Beautiful” – where life is about love and hate. The logic is: you either love or have Jacob Zuma.
Unfortunately, ours is to analyse – not to love or to hate.
By virtue of being the president of our country, Zuma is ipso facto leader of society. Therefore, nobody has the right to stop us from analyzing his impact on society.
If South Africa were a family, and if all of us were children, Zuma would be our father. In other words, our collective dignity – or indignity – would be embodied by the father.
Some later-day immoralists might scream: why do you emphasize the personal qualities of a leader. Is it about a leader’s personality, or is it about his political commitment to a cause?
The ANC has tended to be led by presidents who had moral gravitas in society. In other words, previous presidents of the party have exuded values and qualities cherished by society.
That the ANC counts among its previous presidents such men of the cloth as Rev. Zaccheus Richard Mahabane and Rev. Albert Luthuli is not an accident of history.
It is very true that religious devotion has never been a requirement for leadership in the ANC, but good moral standing has undergirded the selection of leaders.
Due to the moral soundness of the character of the ANC, strong religious believers never felt repelled away from the party. Being in the ANC did not make them feel like being in an organization whose moral values contradict progressive religious beliefs.
All this had to be embodied in ANC leaders. In other words, ANC leaders did not say “Do as I say, not as I do.” The personal conduct of previous ANC presidents was never a source of embarrassment for the party.
The recent history of the ANC confirms that the party has been concerned about matters relating to the personal conduct of its leaders.
In Through the Eye of a Needle, the ANC is unambiguous: “A leader should lead by example. He should be above reproach in his political and social conduct.”
On the African continent, it would be hard to find political parties with such level of social consciousness – to the extent of ordering its leaders to be “above reproach,” even in social conduct.
But why did the ANC say this? It was driven by the intent to cement bonds between iself and society – which is why an analysis of Zuma and society is called for.
Through the Eye of a Needle further decrees: “Through force of example, he [Jacob Zuma] should act as a role model to ANC members and non-members alike.”
At the historic Polokwane conference of 2007, the ANC adopted its Strategy and Tactics, which emphasize the critical importance of exemplary leadership.
Polokwane was very clear: “wherever they are to be found, ANC cadres should act as the custodians of the principles of fundamental social change; winning respect among their peers and society at large through their exemplary conduct.
The ANC believes that its leader, Zuma, must not be an example only to ANC members, but to us non-members as well.
We, non-members, are thus granted permission to answer the question: is Zuma our role model?
Through the Eye of the Needle expects Zuma’s social conduct to be beyond reproach – so that when the boy child says “Mommy, I want to be like Jacob Zuma when I grow up,” the mother must not reply rudely to the innocent boy: “Are you mad?”
It should by now be clear why an analysis of Zuma and society is more than necessary. His party enjoins him to lead “by force of example” – to ANC members, and us non-members alike.
Now, here is a difficult question: has Zuma led society by force of example? No doubt, spin doctors in the ANC and The Presidency will hasten to say “Yes.”
Please do not blame the spin doctors; they are paid to say “Yes.” So, let us not worry about their “Yes” when we answer the more important question: has Jacob Zuma led society by force of example?
While some might want to rewrite a whole tome about Zuma’s contribution in the ANC underground, we must resist such tantalising temptation. Underground stories lend themselves very easily to propaganda.
The good is often told. The bad and the ugly remain hidden in the forests of Mozambique, Swaziland or Tanzania. If trees had a mouth, one wonders how they would respond to the question: has Zuma led by force of example?
Before he became president of South Africa, Zuma faced a string of criminal charges. As we all know, the charges were dropped in a manner not very dissimilar to the modus operandi of the mafia. Some might suggest that this is what it means to lead by force of example.
During his rape case – of which he was not found guilty – he made statements that led one of South Africa’s gifted cartoonists to attach a permanent shower to the head of our president. Who knows, maybe this is also leadership by example.
Shortly after becoming president of our country, the whole nation woke up to what is perhaps the most embarrassing scandal in the twenty first century: a president expecting a child with a daughter of a friend. Again, this could be leadership by force of example.
As if we have been running around a circle, we find ourselves confronted with the same innocent boy child, returning from school one afternoon: “Mommy, I want to be like Jacob Zuma when I grow up.”
Such is the story of Jacob Zuma and society. Leadership by example?
Sowetan 26 March 2012