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SA needs a Mandela of our times

May 16 2018 06:01
Solly Moeng

IT'S hard to decide whether to blame it entirely on the ten years or so of Jacob Zuma’s presidency, or just in part.

But the increasing exposure of the raw racial wounds many of us were persuaded had begun to heal, forever buried underneath the seemingly normalising pigmentation on the surface, is something we should all be worried about.

Insults are being hurled in all directions and no one seems worried any more about the potential civil unrest and possible racial war that could result from them if left unchecked.

The flood of cacophonous racist insults and hurtful, insensitive utterances seems to pour in unchecked from all sides. The gloves are off. No one seems to bother with Mandela-like niceties any more.

If it’s not Julius Malema and his followers making the threats, it is the Black First Land First crowd and, more recently, AfriForum’s Kallie Kriel.

He has decided to take off the mask many suspected had been hiding his raw racism all along, and to declare on national radio that he – and possibly the organisation he leads - does not consider apartheid to have been a crime against humanity.

This is despite it having been declared as such by the United Nations back in the 1980s.

In one seemingly innocent declaration, Kriel sommer abruptly peeled off the dry skin that had been shielding the raw wound below it from the elements.

As expected, like in the case of one Vicky Momberg a few weeks ago, his apologists have come out in numbers and tried to place the blame for his momentous revelation outside Eusebius McKaiser’s door, citing the latter’s line of questioning and - wait for it - deliberate entrapment of Kriel.

For them, poor Kriel was made to say something by McKaiser he otherwise would never have uttered, perhaps just continued to think. 

Added to all of this, there seems to be a growing and too little challenged belief in many on the middle to extreme left wing of our political spectrum that Nelson Mandela betrayed the revolution.

People make these claims in open forums and, worrisomely, in the presence of others who are old enough to have been there just before and during the multiparty negotiations of the early 1990s.

They can be expected to understand the political context in which the negotiations took place, and yet remain silent instead of correcting the opportunistic revisionists.

Where is it all going?

Has the use of race for political expediency by Jacob Zuma and his followers opened a wound many of us had begun to believe, naively, was healing?

Or have Zuma and his people simply taken advantage of a wound that had remained raw, despite appearances, hidden below the surface by our desperate, yet unrealistic attempts to apply stitches to it; a wound that was never going to heal?

Are the Mandela doubters and others who seem determined to rewrite our history correct? Have we been living a lie all these years?

If yes, what has to give in order to start over and build together? Can we still build together? Did we err much more seriously than we already know we did when we handed the reins of a fragile journey to a president who lacked the wisdom, maturity, emotional intelligence, empathy and steady hand to steer our ship through potentially stormy waters?

Or was it all bound to come apart at some stage because the plasters we placed – seemingly in haste - on our historic wounds were bound to fall off at some stage? 

Dual role creates double trouble

I wish President Cyril Ramaphosa - and all future state presidents of South Africa - could be freed from the double and often conflicting duties of having to be president of a political party and that of a country.

Especially in times when the country and its people need so much undivided attention following almost ten years during which much developmental progress – social, political and economic - would have been realised, had it not been for a thieving and unethical president.

This was a man who had a lot more to worry about at a personal level - including having to constantly rebuild obstacles between himself and the relentless long arm of the law – than the interests of the country and its people.

Decidedly, being party president and state president simultaneously does not always go harmoniously together. The historic responsibility to build and strengthen lasting social cohesion, as well as the need to invest meaningfully in the developmental priorities of the country, will always be hampered by those of party dynamics.

This is especially the case where the party is perennially infested with power hungry factions driven by a combination of greed, an inexplicable attachment to old political theories dating back almost 100 years that have never worked anywhere in the world, archaic traditional and paternalistic practices, as well as infighting for lucrative positions and business opportunities. 

It is too much work for any one man or woman to have to deal with; too many conflicting interests to bring together.

In our current electoral dispensation, Ramaphosa was elected to keep his party united, probably at whatever cost, and to prepare it to contest and win elections so that it can remain in power beyond 2019.

Fear of the so-called two centres of power effect would never let him free himself to focus his attention on national priorities without having to constantly look over his shoulder, while his deputy led the party.

But having to keep the party together while leading the clean-up of the mess that was made in our country and its institutions by a delinquent - if not criminal - predecessor who also damaged our national cohesion requires too much juggling of priorities.

A Mandela of our times

South Africa needs a sturdy hand - a Mandela of our times – who, armed with emotional maturity, vision and empathy, will invest undivided energy to reach out across all political and other divides to reassure, rally, admonish, temper growing negative emotions, and remind all South Africans that they are stuck together on this ship that is still afloat and that can still be turned into a real home for all if they tried again to hold hands.

Perhaps it’s time we started imagining a political system that would have an almost non-partisan, uniting president, a bit like in India, who doesn’t have to worry about running a political party, while government is run by a committee of experts headed by a chief operating officer – or prime minister - with all checks and balances in place.   

  • Solly Moeng is brand reputation management adviser and CEO of strategic corporate communications consultancy DonValley Reputation Managers. Views expressed are his own.

solly moeng  |  jacob zuma  |  cyril rama­phosa  |  opinion


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