Zuma is fiddling while SA burns
Who will skipper rudderless Rainbow Nation ship?
THE Jewish-German poet Heinrich Heine, concerned about the never-ending conflict in Europe and the general chaos and conflict that had engulfed the world, made these remarks: "If one thinks of Europe in the night, one is robbed of sleep."
Indeed, there is truth in Heine's remarks. The League of Nations, after World War 1, failed to bring about lasting peace in the world. So too did the United Nations in the ensuing years after the carnage of World War 2.
Closer to home the ideals of a functioning democracy and the promise of a better life appear to be floundering under the leadership of President Jacob Zuma.
Glimpses of the egalitarian society South Africans envisaged after the demise of apartheid are dissipating and the dream of a better life is replaced by pessimism.
Cynicism persists even as the ANC-led government contrives innovative projects and programmes such as the National Planning Commission (NPC) chaired by Minister in the Office of the Presidency Trevor Manuel.
As independent as it is and even though it is brimming with dogma-free ideas that seek to give South Africans a fresh start to boost the country's infrastructure and economy, this initiative is hamstrung by political hyperbole and rhetoric that harbour narrow political ends.
The NPC, with its mission to be diagnostic, offers opportunities to turn around the economic fortunes of this country, so that the words "hunger", "poverty" and "unemployment" may no longer form part of South Africa's lexicon.
Yet when Zuma opened the ANC policy conference in June he played down the value of the project.
Instead, Zuma rehashed the party's history in greater detail than was required.
As important as it might be to remember the heroic struggles of the movement, that should not be done at the expense of being forward-looking.
South Africa's economic growth is hamstrung by the lack of political and economic vision.
The NPC is a vehicle to deliver the goods to an ailing economy. But if that is true, why did Zuma not make it an important aspect of his conference speech?
Nostalgic trips down memory lane are no panacea for poverty.
South Africa is facing serious crises - an education system in shambles and a Basic Education minister unwilling to take responsibility for the debacle that has led to the non-delivery of textbooks to schools in Limpopo.
The ministry is shirking responsibility for the seven-month let down in Limpopo. Instead it seeks to place the blame at the doorstep of secondary players.
While the catastrophe deepens, it has been greeted by a deafening silence from the Office of the President. Why is the ANC president lukewarm on such key matters?
Seven months into the school year textbooks have not yet reached Limpopo schools, and the leadership is silent. Why?
Turning to the judiciary, I have a hunch that the ANC-led government is promoting practices that might be inconsistent with democracy, the dictates of the constitution and the separation of powers.
The Justice Ministry has through Jeff Radebe, who is also the policy head of the ANC, announced its plans to pilot a Legal Practice Bill to create "a unified body to regulate legal practice".
Both the law societies and bar councils will be subsumed into that entity under Radebe's tutelage.
If, as a general rule, we accept that judges are drawn from the ranks of lawyers who are members of both the law societies and the bar councils and that through this new bill lawyers will in effect be under the control of the Justice Ministry one can deduce that lawyers will be reporting to a political head, who is appointed by South Africa's president.
The effect of that arrangement, by default or otherwise, will be that the independence of the judiciary might be compromised.
Section 165 (2) of the constitution states: "The courts are independent, and subject only to the constitution and the law, which they must apply impartially without fear, favour or prejudice".
South Africans, whose political life had been dominated by apartheid and white domination, yearn for a transformed justice system and equity. The expectation is that the ANC leadership will make that possible.
But Zuma is incapable of instilling a sense of purpose in his organisation. The real - or perceived - abuse of office and the plundering of state resources have become worse under his leadership. There is ample evidence of that, already in the public domain.
The ideals of a collective leadership should not mean that Zuma should be exonerated from being seen as the ANC leader.
At his age, is Zuma a spent force? Under his leadership South Africa is burning. Brutal and raw violence is back in the country's streets. The question is: Where are the bright, shining stars of the ANC to save South Africa from sinking?
To paraphrase the poet's assertion: "Is it possible for South Africans to sleep at night while such plunder, looting, corruption and leadership ineptitude continue to plague it?"
Hopefully, the upcoming Mangaung conference in December will provide the answers.
- Mdhlela is a freelance writer and former editor of Challenge magazine