Tutu is entitled to an opinion about Zuma

You might have read that Sowetan has called for the sacking of Joel Santana, the national football coach. I take it not everybody agrees with this view.

You might have read that Sowetan has called for the sacking of Joel Santana, the national football coach. I take it not everybody agrees with this view.

I would wager that there are as many who agree with the view as there are who think we need to have our heads read for thinking such stupid thoughts.

When it comes to the national sporting teams, South Africans hold very passionate views. Rugby and football coaches often remind us that they have the "fortune" of having 40 million odd co-coaches.

Now, if this is the passion we have for sport and are willing to speak our minds on it, why should we be expected to hold our tongues when it comes to our national leaders?

It would be strange if it were to be acceptable to talk about the national team's coach and not about the nation's president.

Last week Tim Modise hosted ANC Youth League president Julius Malema, and one of the questions was the young man's opinion on the fortunes of the national football team, which he gladly shared. Nobody said it was not Malema's province to pronounce on such matters. It is his country too, therefore, it is his team and he is entitled to a point of view.

That is why we should refrain from creating an impression that it is acceptable to have your say about who runs Bafana Bafana but talking about who leads the country or what we think of that person is blasphemous.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, pictured, like you, is perfectly entitled to say what he thinks of a Zuma presidency.

The flip side is that everyone else has a right to tell Tutu off if they think he is talking nonsense. It is a cop-out to say that you will not engage Tutu on his thoughts because he is old.

In fact if I were Tutu I would probably feel patronised if you failed to deal with what I said, that it was my age speaking. Imagine dismissing anything Nelson Mandela says on the basis that he is a senile 90-year-old, who has not been involved in any political party's structures for some time. It would be an outrage.

By the way, Tutu turns 78 in October and is therefore 13 years Madiba's junior.

Tutu, like all of us, is not all-knowing and without flaws. In the same way that we should not treat JZ like a god, we should not assume that everything Tutu says is the gospel.

Parliament's theme two years ago was Masijule Ngengxoxo - let us deepen debate. It does not mean now that the year's theme has changed we should stop engaging robustly.

At any rate we already do. Just listen to radio talk shows after an Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs match or another star quitting Muvhango.

What we need to learn though is the engagement etiquette. There is an unfortunate tendency to play the man rather than the ball. People are scared to speak their minds about matters that are on the national agenda lest they are thought to be disloyal to the ruling elite, unpatriotic or disrespectful to the elderly.

The first two patterns of behaviour are reminiscent of the days when "the politically minded" were always warned they would end up in Robben Island or worse for "politicking".

Free speech and free thought are the dividend of a political settlement of the struggle against apartheid tyranny. To be made to fear to exercise these rights is as tragic as to be made fearful of voting.

These freedoms are exactly the reason Jacob Zuma and Desmond Tutu sacrificed so much for.