Fri Oct 21 13:36:38 SAST 2016

Zuma lesson: Don't confuse modesty with humility

By unknown | May 04, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Inevitably, those among us who questioned Jacob Zuma's suitability to be president must accept that he is the new Number One.

He deserves the respect that his office demands and he will also be subjected to the sharp scrutiny that comes with that office.

Many theories have been put forward as to why Zuma would make a good or terrible president.

As with all national leaders he will have left his mark, for good or ill, when his term ends.

It's too early to write his epitaph but there are lessons his ascendancy to power can teach us.

Just before the elections I was privileged to join a group of journalists for a dinner - which Zuma's spokesperson, Zizi Kodwa, insisted was not an off-the-record briefing - hosted by Msholozi.

And while his by now legendary warmth and charm were apparent, something else struck me.

Zuma is, by his own admission, a product of fate rather than his own choices.

In that way he is a lot like many of us. Perhaps that is one of the things that makes him so popular with many South Africans.

He is like many of us in that we are all too often ready to accept our limitations.

Many of us accept that being born in some rural backwater, a poor township neighbourhood, being a woman in a male-dominated world or being black in a country still rife with white racism, means that our fate is written in the high heavens.

When you look closer at Zuma's rise within the ANC and later in government, you can't help but notice a man who, had it not been for others who thought higher of him than he did of himself, would have ended up as just another anti-apartheid struggle activist.

On Robben Island Zuma was elevated to the highest decision-making structures within his organisation despite his feeling that "better" comrades were more deserving of the positions.

In exile he protested when in 1977 he was elected on to the ANC national executive committee. Again, this was because he felt he was ill-qualified, compared with others within the movement.

Modern South African history will show that on its unbanning, the ANC chose Zuma as the first of its exiled leaders to return to South Africa, where he led his side's talk-about-talks team. Again he was taken by surprise as he thought less of himself.

The ANC found itself having to amend its constitution and inserted what became known as the "Zuma Clause" to allow him to hold both national and provincial office-bearer positions.

He had ruled himself out for a national position on the grounds that he already wore a provincial hat, when his comrades insisted that he had something to offer the party.

It is possible that JZ was just being modest or reluctant to make his aspirations known, especially since being ambitious is a dirty word in the ANC.

But that is hardly the point. Many still believe you have to doubt yourself to be seen as humble.

You need not like Zuma to draw lessons from him and his life. You do not even have to agree with his politics.

For me the lesson to be learnt from JZ's life in politics is that we should temper modesty with realistic drive. Even better, we should mix with those who believe in the power within us to become better than we are, rather than those who accept our mediocrity as all we could ever have.

Perhaps then can we give to our country the best within us.


Login OR Join up TO COMMENT