The Zuma Saga and the Problem of Moral Leadership
The Zuma Saga and the Problem of Moral Leadership

By Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela

Organised by the Alan Paton Centre & Struggle Archives,
University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg and the Liberal Democratic Association, and sponsored by the Natal Society Foundation
18 May 2006

''Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that [will inherit] our fear. Let [her] not love the earth too deeply. Let [her] not laugh too gladly when the water runs through [her] fingers? Let [her] not be too moved [by the birds singing in her land], nor give [her heart too much] to a mountain, or a valley. For fear will rob [her] of it all, if [she] gives too much.''

South Africa is a different country to the one it was when Alan Paton wrote his prophetic book, Cry the Beloved Country. Tonight I stand on the shoulders of all those South Africans, great and small - young and older ones who worked hard to bring South Africa to that dawn which Alan Paton so longingly wrote about, the dawn of emancipation, the dawn of freedom from fear, the dawn of a new vision for our country.

Today we live in a time of extraordinary possibilities. The barriers of the past are no longer cast in legal stone. We live in a society that is becoming increasingly inclusive, and our markets are becoming increasingly open. Democracy that came with the first all-race elections ushered in new freedoms which have created powerful channels of expression, freedoms previously denied to the majority of South Africans. Our constitution, lauded as one of the best in the world, has given us more than a decade of freedom, equity, and human rights laws. Never have South Africans of all sectors, all communities, and in all professional and practical fields, enjoyed so much freedom and power to speak their minds.

Yet this is also a precarious time. The televised national seminar of Jacob Zuma's rape trial has focused our attention on the fundamental dilemma that is beginning to shape our nation's future: the dilemma of moral leadership. Zuma's return to the second highest position of leadership in the ANC is a terrible shame. At a time when we as a nation need leaders of moral character, there is little to celebrate.

The ''we,'' of course, refers to us, ''the anonymous mass,'' as Njabulo Ndebele described those of us who fall outside the camp of both Zuma's supporters and the ANC.

The ANC, an organisation ahead of its time, with a vision to build a country where all who live in it shall have equal rights, an organisation which crafted a Freedom Charter that paved the way for our current Constitution, was led by men and women whose moral character was our armour, men and women whose only ambition was to lead their country to freedom. They pursued the quest for freedom vigorously and with resolve, risking danger, detention, torture and even death. They dedicated their lives for the fight for equality, carried themselves with dignity, and fought to restore a spirit of shared humanity among all South Africans. This ambition and dedication to build a new society is captured most poignantly in the famous words of Nelson Mandela before he was sentenced to life imprisonment with his comrades.

The ideal of a democratic and free society, Mandela told the court, ''is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.'' These are the memorable words of Nelson Mandela to the court which pronounced a clear and unequivocal guilty verdict?

These were not just Mandela's words. They were the very embodiment of the principles that formed the backbone of the ambition to free our country and to lead it to the road of humanity, freedom, and equality ahead. This ambition brought South Africans across colour and creed to join in collaboration with others to live their lives in a meaningful and dignified way, knowing that in making that choice they were risking the safety of their families, detention, torture, and death.

Today, however, ambition among some in the leadership of the ANC has become a personal matter. It is ambition driven by self-interest, loyalties, party pressure, and a desire to be top dog. The big issues of nation-building and how to lead with dignity and style have taken a back seat. This is why Zuma, after he has disgraced himself in public with judgment and behaviour that even the judge who handed him back his freedom considered to be deplorable, is now on the path that could advance his personal ambitions directly to the highest position of political leadership in our country.
Zuma's supporters say that it is enough that he has been found not guilty. ''Not guilty'' however, is not the same as ''innocent.'' Zuma knew every painful detail of the trauma suffered by his accuser, and after the death of her father, who was his comrade, Zuma had a responsibility to protect the young woman's vulnerability. He had a responsibility to be faithful to his family. And he had a responsibility to live up to his reputation as a man of integrity, upholding the values and principles which he espoused when he led the Moral Regeneration Movement and the National AIDS Council. He failed on all three. Zuma has put a dent in his integrity and failed as a moral leader.

Everything has been said about Zuma, his behaviour, his character, and his failure to publicly condemn what was done in his name by his supporters outside the courtroom, the slandering and stoning of his former comrade's daughter. His supporters have evoked images of a man unfairly treated by conspirators within the ANC. The struggle is no longer about who is the best to lead South Africa into a future peaceful stability, but between the characters of two leaders (And why should it be a choice between these two? Are there no other choices?). On the one hand Thabo Mbeki, seen as manipulative, intolerant of criticism, out of touch with the masses and instead enjoying associations with very important people internationally, yet also earning respect from leaders at home and abroad as a visionary and a strategist, and for being strong on important domestic issues such as gender equality and issues that affect people with disabilities. And on the other hand Zuma, seen by many as warm, engaging, close to people, yet not strong on strategic vision.

\Reinstating Zuma to his position as second in command of the ANC when his corruption trial is still unresolved, knowing that this places him in line for the presidential candidacy,  raises questions about the ANC's motives:

Has the might of Zuma's supporters taken control of the ANC's wisdom on this issue?
Is the ANC leadership motivated by fear of the firestorm they might ignite from furious Zuma supporters if Zuma were not reinstated?
The Zuma saga is as much about power and ambition as it is about the characters of Zuma and Mbeki. Unfortunately we, ''the anonymous masses,'' are at the mercy of the tyranny of the majority. Or are we? What can we do to uphold and advance Nelson Mandela's vision of a peaceful and cohesive society, and Thabo Mbeki's vision economic stability to give South Africa a global edge?

The challenge to us as engaged citizens it seems to me, is to temper the right of different groups to express their dissatisfaction and outrage with moral wisdom. One wonders why ANC leaders of integrity, honesty, character and regard for the respect and dignity of others, have been silent, leaders like Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada, and Ben Turok, among many others. Where are their voices of reason in this crisis? Where are these leaders who pointed for us the road of humanity ahead? And how can the next generation of moral leaders who they raised as their heirs carry on and make their voices heard?

Clearly, our society needs to groom new, younger leaders. How do we cultivate them? Would it help to create a moral leadership forum, involving schools: moral development and leadership skills to be cultivated early among the young at school and tertiary level; teaching the young on how to use their power towards moral goals; encouraging leaders in the corporate sector and their employees to follow ethical codes of conduct and to engage beyond the mandatory corporate social responsibility code.

Statements made in the press by many of Zuma's male followers in the Young Communist League, Youth League and others are a frightening reminder of the power of misguided patriarchy among some of our younger leaders. David Masondo's words in the Sunday Times (14 May 2006) are troubling. Zuma, like any adult, Masondo said, ''has the right to have sex with any consenting adult ? to argue that he should not be president because he had sex with an HIV+ consenting adult is morally wrong...'' David Masondo is National Chairman of the Young Communist League. We should be worried, for the following reasons:

Is sex going to become the yardstick for the selection of a morally and professionally qualified leader of our nation in the future South Africa?

And what does consenting mean - is consent determined by the judgment of a man in power?
What kind of morality is Masondo advocating? And, since we can reasonably assume that Masondo represents the next generation of the ANC leadership, what hope do women have?
The words of Alan Paton resonate in this crisis of leadership in our country: Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn girl child who will inherit our fear.

Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela is the 2004 winner of the Alan Paton Award for her book, A Human Being Died That Night. This is an excerpt from her Alan Paton Lecture at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

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