PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma's lack of formal education was the central theme in the most vicious of character assassinations masquerading as leadership theory and analysis by Prince Mashele.
Mashele's disparaging arguments on rurality and the so-called quality of ANC membership under Jacob Zuma exposed his prejudice.
His latest vitriol - "The worst shall govern" - seems like a late angry reaction to Zuma's rise to power and not a genuine attempt to debate issues of leadership.
Education as a broad concept in African societies is older than the institutions of formal education. This is precisely why, when the democratic government took over and designed the education system, it acknowledged what is termed "recognition of prior learning".
This concept underlines the fact that in dealing with issues of redress you cannot discount experience and potential in elevating people. Nor can you write off indigenous knowledge systems since this would mean that in prehistoric times, when there were no universities, there were no leaders.
Mashele quickly dismisses the term organic intellectual as not applicable to Zuma, one of our generation's most intelligent leaders .
Education is also a holistic application of life experiences and not merely a collection of degrees. You cannot dismiss someone as uneducated only on the basis of certification.
Mashele behaves and reasons more like a certificated graduate than the educated intellectual he purports to be.
Leadership can never be reduced to a degree . In fact, there is no evidence that the elevation of any ANC leader was as a result of academic prowess. If anything, JZ shares with all of them a deep sense of community involvement and indigenous wisdom - the true mark of education.
All evidence points to the fact that the ANC chose these leaders for their qualities of mobilising the masses, being able to appeal to communities and to implement the ANC's vision and programme.
An attempt to distinguish them from JZ based on academic qualification is a falsification of history. It is a deliberate misunderstanding of how the ANC chooses leaders and how African society, from time immemorial, nurtured its leaders.
It is argued passionately that this lack of formal education sends a message that people should not aim to study. This would be tragic if it was true.
Yet, Mashele lets his prejudice against Zuma get into the way. In exercising true leadership, Zuma has probably done much more than any ANC president by being personally involved in projects that have encouraged many young people to strive for higher education.
Zuma's story is that of many African parents. Having not had the opportunities for formal education, they send their children to school and universities.
Their lack of formal education has never been an excuse for our children to say: "My mother made it as a domestic worker, so I won't study."
Mashele reduces Zuma's circumstances to an automatic discouragement of society to strive for formal education. If he was no intellectual, we would call this illogical. But having ignored the Jacob Zuma Education Trust initiatives as a mark of true leadership by Zuma on issues of education, we can only label this prejudice.
How does Zuma's rural roots become a subject of leadership ana-lysis? This must be the most banal and outright insult to him and the rural masses. Mashele's narrative is that Zuma's story is a Jim comes to Joburg story, where all civilisation is in Johannesburg and the rest of the country is rural or, more precisely, backward.
This is the only reason why a new word, "ruralitarian", is used to describe Zuma. We are not told of ANC leaders Zuma is compared with who do not have rural roots. Nelson Mandela is from Qunu and Thabo Mbeki from Idutywa, but this is not enough to earn them rurality as a label. Are the other leaders "urbanatarians"?
Zuma was given national and international responsibility to mobilise the ANC underground and intelligence forces as part of his overall leadership of the struggle over many decades.
Does the state of the ANC reflect on the leadership qualities of its president or put differently, does the existence of unity challenges mean that he must be blamed? Was the ANC as a broad church less contested when Mandela and Mbeki were in power?
Mashele wants us to believe Mbeki or Mandela united the ANC more than Zuma.
He discounts that under Zuma's leadership the ANC had grown to a million members and he makes a horrendous sweeping statement insulting all who have joined the ANC under Zuma as thieves who are after tenders.
So we must believe that under Mbeki or other leaders of the ANC, only upright members joined and swelled the ANC's ranks. This prejudiced utterance is only matched with Pieter Mulder's gaffe about blacks being visitors to this country.
Mashele owes South Africans an apology. It is sad when hatred of a leader blinds you to stop at nothing to insult the entire membership of the liberation movement. History will bear out that none of the leadership is perfect. In fact, the imperfections of leaders is what writes history.
Mashele's conclusion that the worst is upon us is a wrong invitation to compare the worst traits of current with previous leaders. We must refuse to stoop that low.
Leaders come and go for various reasons. In debating what South Africa needs, let us learn from our leaders positives and negatives and then formulate what kind of leadership this country needs. Such a debate is necessary and needs to be constructive and not be another excuse for personal and savage factional attacks.