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One thing JZ can teach Cyril

Jacob Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa.
Jacob Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa.

There's something appealing about institutions or people who are decisive, who know what they want and, within applicable laws and rules, steer right ahead to accomplish that which is necessary.

China is vilified, sometimes justifiably, for many things. Yet global leaders line up to learn from the Chinese how they turned what once was a creaking economy around.

US President Donald Trump's recent frothing at the mouth about national security and Huawei's 5G technology is testimony to China being decisive about what it wants, and forcing its way through.

The National Treasury and the SA Revenue Service were, at a point in time, revered for their efficiency while somewhat feared for their ruthlessness applied within the law.

So was the Scorpions investigative unit under Leonard McCarthy at the National Prosecuting Authority, the spy tapes notwithstanding.

The one thing former president Jacob Zuma did very well, even if for wrong reasons, was to be decisive about what he wanted to see happen in the country.

When Zuma and his national executive committee wanted former president Thabo Mbeki removed, it was done. Eight days in September, former director-general in the presidency Frank Chikane later told us in his book.

When Zuma wanted the Scorpions, a forerunner of the Hawks, gone, the process, painful for those who knew that this was self-serving and a scene-setter for looting, was swift.

The rules were followed, the Scorpions were dead in no time.

Today, though, our likeable president with a knack for pleasing everybody, faces his stiffest test not from other politicians, but from public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.

The latter's suitability for office is subject to fierce national debate and contestation. The Constitutional Court will tomorrow hand down judgment on whether Mkhwebane should be held personally liable for costs in a case involving the Reserve Bank, but the key point of interest being her recklessness and inability to apply her mind properly.

While the things that happen or are not happening in Mkhwebane's head are debated, reports flow like a steady current about important investigations in her office.

Minister Fikile Mbalula, minister Pravin Gordhan and now Ramaphosa are caught in the crosshairs.

Gordhan has been clear about what he thinks is not happening in her head, and sought counsel and intermediation from the courts.

The president has now followed.

The DA has, before these latest reports, indicated she's ill-suited for this important office. The credibility of the public protector's office is shattered.

Until something is done to restore confidence or remove her, as the DA has suggested, how must her reports be received and understood by society? Warfare through the courts makes a mockery of that office and is anathema to our democracy.

While contestation is healthy, this has moved beyond that.

And for us, mere mortals, we must either embrace all the reports she has issued and insist that there must be deference, within reason, for Mkhwebane and her office.

Or that she must be removed and her reports must be discarded as the work of someone confused about what her office is about. We can't have it both ways.

Ramaphosa and the ANC must either stand behind Mkhwebane or support the DA's move to get rid of her. His soft approach to power is becoming his own undoing. Ramaphosa's indecision on the matter has caused confusion to his support base, which he needs to be marshalling for a second term.

I am mindful that, from an inter-political party perspective, it's not ideal for Ramaphosa's ANC to be supporting a motion sponsored by the DA. It suggests that the DA leads and the ANC follows.

I get that. But is that worse than being ordered by Mkhwebane to hand over the entire list of donors to your (CR17) election campaign? The indecision over Mkhwebane's fate will prove costly not just to Ramaphosa, but his sponsors and supporters too.

I am also mindful that a president can have a public protector who is competent but with whom he simply has differences of opinion. Ramaphosa's reticence does not help us deal with the pungent smell descending on his presidency.

Having respect for Mkhwebane but disagreeing with one of her decisions is different to Mmusi Maimane's opportunistic embrace of Mkhwebane's reports. He is happy to argue that Mkhwebane is ill-suited for her role and must go - but her decisions, to the extent they further his cause of embarrassing and weakening the ANC, are plausible. No principle. More like saying the tree is poisonous, but we are happy to eat its fruits.

Similarly, Ramaphosa must think about what he wants done. It is either Mkhwebane is not suited for her job and, in that case, all her reports - and not just those relating to powerful politicians - must be ignored. Or that she's competent and all, especially you, Mr President, must do the honourable thing. You can't have it both ways.

A failure to provide clarity polarises debate. Even good people stop thinking.

They do unimaginable things to protect you or Jamnandas (Gordhan). They're forced to choose sides in a false dichotomous discourse.

What are you to do with the public protector, Mr President? Be decisive. Be appealing. Lead.

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