19 November, 2012

The Dismal State of South Africa's Political Leadership

by Hussein Solomon

Two news stories this week caught my eye and prompted my reflection on the state of political leadership in South Africa.

The first was the story of General David Petraeus who stepped down as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency following reports of his affair with his biographer. From all accounts, General Petraeus was not pushed out of his job and indeed President Obama did ask him to reconsider his resignation but it seems that Petraeus said that he exercised poor judgement and that he failed his own standards of right conduct.

The story of Petraeus stands in sharp contrast to our own sorry political leadership. Can one imagine President Jacob Zuma saying that he exercised poor judgement with his friendship of Schabir Shaikh or poor judgement in his sexual liaisons and was therefore stepping down? Of course, one cannot. In similar vein, can one imagine a senior ANC member like Tony Yengeni who has served time in jail to be too embarrassed to continue to hold political office and in the interests of his party and the country stepping out of the political and public limelight? The answer is also negative. Neither of these men have an ounce of moral credibility and neither have an ounce of patriotism to this country.

The second story emanates from Egypt. A tragic accident occurred when a train collided into a school bus resulting in the death of 49 children. The Minister of Transport and Communications immediately took responsibility and handed his resignation to the president who accepted it. This was followed by the resignation of the Head of Egypt’s Railway Authority. Neither of these gentlemen was pressured into resigning but both felt that the buck stopped with them. Both felt accountable for the deaths of these children.

Compare this with South Africa where our political mandarins do not even know the meaning of the word “accountability”. The Minister of Basic Education refuses to take political responsibility for not getting textbooks into schools on time. The Premier of Limpopo refuses to take responsibility for the fact that his province is a cesspool of corrupt tenderpreneurs. The ANC leadership in the Eastern Cape refuses to take responsibility for the fact that they simply cannot govern this province – from potholed roads, to appalling conditions in hospitals, to dysfunctional schools.

I am always amazed at the potential this great country of ours has. I am amazed at the teacher I came across who stayed on in the late afternoons to assist his weaker students with their studies. I am amazed at the medical doctor who offers his services free to the less fortunate. I am amazed at the resilience of South Africans generally in hard times and the fact that they can still smile and laugh. But unless our political leadership can exercise good judgement and are accountable for their actions, the potential of this country will never be realized.

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