Questioning South Africa’s leaders

Date: January 1, 1970
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I always fall into a debate with my aunt, every time I go home to see my family at Makosha village outside Giyani; and this time around was no different. It started when I asked her if she had registered to vote.

Her answer was as fierce as an angry beast as she thundered with no full stop that she is going to vote for the same party she has voted for since 1994, and that I must not think of recruiting her to join any new party. It was easy to guess that she was referring to the country’s newest political party, Congress of the People (COPE).
I got the impression that she was accusing me of being a COPE recruiter. However, I do not belong to a single party, even though I am going to the booths. To her, those who formed COPE had their chance while with the ANC and failed to deliver. 
A domestic worker in Giyani, my aunt never received any formal education, but she makes a formidable opponent in any political debate. Perhaps being glued to the 24-hour television news contributes to her being an informed citizen. 
However, despite her deeply held and well argumented beliefs, to me, she, as with many others in the country, have yet to recognise the leadership crisis our country is currently experiencing. Heading into the final days before the 22 April polls, looking over the last few months presents a scary picture.  
ANC youth President Julius Malema’s history of comments speaks volumes. Most famous for the notorious “I will kill for Zuma” statements, his party also forced him to apologise to education Minister Naledi Pandor after “fake American accent” comments. He incensed gender activists, suggesting, in reference to the woman who accused Jacob Zuma of rape, "When a woman didn’t enjoy it, she leaves early in the morning. Those who had a nice time will wait until the sun comes out, request breakfast and ask for taxi money."
More frightening, his verbal attacks on elders like former president Thabo Mbeki, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, COPE Deputy Chairperson Mbhazima Shilowa and Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi received no condemnation from the ruling party.
Former ANC chief spin-doctor Carl Nehaus’s shocking confession about fraud and the suspension of police chief commissioner Jackie Selebi while facing charges of corruption and defeating the ends of justice, surely add to national concern about leadership.  Of course, not least of all is the ongoing saga of ANC president Jacob Zuma’s court cases and corruption charges (I won’t even get into the rape trial and the whole shower incident).
Many cited lack of leadership as the main cause for breaking away from the ANC to form COPE. Yet, chairperson Mosiuoa Lekota has his own problems. He faced criticisms of having a hand in putting Khutsong and Matatiela into other provinces against the people’s voiced wishes and alleged implications in an arms deal saga while he was foreign minister also follow him.
Perhaps it is not surprising that former Methodist bishop, Mvume Dandala, is COPE’s presidential candidate in the April elections.  COPE likely realised that Lekota and Shilowa have their own burdens to bear.
There is no doubt South Africans take their politics seriously. The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) registered a new record of 23 million eligible voters, including over 1.5 million new voters, over three quarters of them youth.
South Africans want to vote and still treasure their democratic right to. Yet, there is also extensive disillusionment amongst voters. For many in South Africa, this disillusionment may translate into not going to the polls at all.
People like Thelma Thabiso Thibethi, from Soweto cite disillusionment as why they are not voting in the coming election. “I was going to vote but I actually took a decision not to, reason being I am not happy with the current government,” said Thibethi.
Although he has since changed his mind and will go to the booths, last year even Bishop Tutu said he would not cast his ballot in the coming general elections after the sacking of former president Mbeki from office, citing lack of accountability and leadership within the ruling party.
I asked my aunt, if she thinks voters will vote for a party because of its glorified history, or according to leadership qualities embodied in it? Her answer was, “Mandla if you can ask old people that question, they will not understand what you are talking about.”
Yes, she was spot on; I remember my friend’s mother, who also resides in the fringes of Giyani, saying that she does not buy into the new political party COPE, because she does not want to be confused. Perhaps our history, rather than our current political reality, is shaping the nation’s decisions?  
So – what makes a good leader? According to Jozi entrepreneur Adrian Loveland, “A good leader has got a good plan, lets people know what the plan is and after implementing it, is accountable and responsible for that plan.”
Although Loveland praises the current government of having good ideas, he laments losing focus on implementation. “They concentrate on their court cases, and the plans that they came up with are not implemented well,” said Loveland. Thibedi agreed, saying that current leaders bring initiatives forward but get stuck during the process and fail to implement.
Another Johannesburg sales marketer who identified herself as Julia, says that a good leader knows how to take responsibility. “They must listen to their followers.  They must sit down with them and discuss things, not decide for them.”
I wonder what my aunt expects from a leader?  Nevertheless, we finally come to an agreement that if Ximoko Progressive Party (XPP) was still alive it would get both our votes. We agreed that since Ximoko was our home base political party, it would understand our needs, which meant service delivery would be their firs priority.
I think that is what people look for – leaders who understand their needs and will concentrate on services to really make a difference. While the political struggles between the powerful men of our nation (and it must be pointed out that women are completely missing from our choices for a new national leader) rage on, most of us are looking for the basics, good service delivery, and economy we can prosper in, honest and transparent government, amongst others.
Even though I can see very well that there is a problem in our country with leadership, I am still definitely going to the polls. After all, many in our country died for this right.  However, perhaps we will better honour our history not by voting based on historical legacy, but by exercising this precious right we have been given wisely, with our eyes fully open to the world we live in today.
Mandla Masingi works as a communication assistant with CMFD Productions in Johannesburg. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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