20 February 2013
Dear Mr Zuma
AN OPEN LETTER ON THE STATE OF THE NATION
I write this letter with a simple request: that you resign from all public office, especially that of President and Head of State of the Republic of South Africa.
I am, of course, aware that you have been re-elected President of the African National Congress, the majority party in our National Assembly. I am also aware that, in terms of our electoral system, that allows the ANC to present you as a candidate to the National Assembly and use their majority therein to put you in office, without much ado. It would also appear that by its recent vote the African National Congress has expressed confidence in your leadership. You can then understand that I am taking an extraordinary step, and I can assure you one that has been carefully considered, in asking for your resignation.
Our country is in shambles, and the quality of life of millions of ordinary South Africans is deteriorating. Confidence in our country, and its economic and political system, is at an all-time low. There is reason to believe that ordinary South Africans have no trust in your integrity as a leader, or in your ability to lead and guide a modern constitutional democracy that we aspire to become. That, notwithstanding the fact that our Constitution puts very minimal requirements for qualification as a public representative including the highly esteemed office of President and Head of State, and Head of the Executive. What is clear, at the very least, is that the President must have the means and the inclination to promote and defend the Constitution, and uphold the well being of all South Africans. I have reason to believe that, notwithstanding the confidence that your party has placed on you, you have demonstrated that you no longer qualify for this high office on any of the counts stated above.
As President and Head of State you should take responsibility for the lamentable state in which our society finds itself. This prevailing toxic and amoral environment must surely have something to do with the manner in which you assumed office, by trampling down on all semblance of the rule of law, and corrupting agencies of state. We are constantly reminded of the truth of Shakespeare’s words: “Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall” (Measure for Measure II.2) The result is that we are in a Macbethian world where there is absence from the moral landscape of this dear land of ours any sense of positive good, any sense of personal involvement in virtue, loyalty, restraint. As a result we are in the morass of paralysis of moral power as a society. I believe that we are justified in exclaiming with Marcellus in Hamlet 1.iv “something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” And so we say “All is not well.”
As citizens we need not ask of our President and Head of State any more than the practice of virtue. To live a virtuous life is to express the goodness of and the possibilities for good in human living. These have at times been expressed as the cardinal virtues: temperance, courage, prudence and justice. For that the leader must lead by example, be a person of common wisdom, and understand the environment of her/his operations enough to serve the people and be driven by a desire to govern well.
There is no place in this for exploiting the high office for personal gain or benefit, or using state resources to buy loyalty, or to elevate party or family above the public good. Without this radical prescription of service our democracy is hollow, becomes a dictatorship of the Party, until the next elections when the voters once again get coaxed to vote for The Party! The personal attributes of a leader are an important assurance that our democracy is in good hands: excellence in virtue, truth, trust, wisdom, insight, discernment, and sound judgment.
That cesspit of a-morality is to be found in the prevalence of rape in all its brutal forms, in the disregard for loyalty – how does one explain that a close friend of Anene Booysen ‘s brother in Bredasdorp is one of the suspects of her murder. You yourself know only too well that a daughter of a close friend and comrade of yours accused you of rape! Though, happily, you were acquitted of the charge, the stench of disloyalty and taking advantage of unequal relations remains. South Africans live in fear, they are angry; they are poor (and getting poorer) and burdened by debt. What could be alleviating poverty, like social grants and social housing, is failing in practice because the poor have what is due to them pocketed by corrupt officials, and instead suffer the indignity of living life as beggars in their own land. Whether it be from marauding criminal gangs, or crime syndicates that appear to operate with some impunity, or the elderly terrified of their own grandchildren, or neighbours who cannot be trusted, or girl schoolchildren who are at the mercy of their teachers who may rape or abuse them, or corruption and theft from public resources by government ministers and public servants, or failure to meet the basic requirements of schooling most notably school textbooks not being delivered on time, or citizens who die in our hospitals because there are no doctors , or no medicines, or the thousands who dies on our roads, or protesters like Andries Tatane in Ficksburg, or the Marikana 46, or those murdered by the Cato Manor police death squad in extra-judicial murder, South Africans live in fear. Are we effectively in a police state? This situation is the direct result of the failure of public policy.
Besides the social and moral breakdown that engulfs our society, the economic woes for ordinary South Africans are not abating. Social inequality has widened since the end of apartheid – and that is something to be ashamed of. The extent of escalating unemployment in our country is surely nothing to be proud of, and poverty that has become endemic, almost irreversible, that haunts our every being cannot be gainsaid. The gaping disparities between rich and poor is a sad indictment on a party that has been in government since the onset of our constitutional democracy. The inadequacy of policy is attested to by the succession of downgrades by rating agencies, and the despair of the poor expresses itself in incessant demonstrations throughout the length and breadth of our country.
South Africans are angry, and they have every reason to be so. There is evidence that your party and government no longer have the intelligence, ideas or initiative to take bold, radical and necessary steps to arrest this slide into oblivion. Besides just being without the intelligence to change the course of history, evidently your Party and government do not even have the inclination preoccupied as it is by a relentless programme of self-enrichment. Not even the otherwise promising National Planning Commission Report will solve the challenges we face because it is too little too late, lacks specificity and is without urgency or determination. Yes, we also have the promise of a multi-billion rand infrastructure development spend that is bound to end up in failure no less than the ignoble defence procurement debacle, based on the prevailing rector of corruption in government. Why, because there are already signs that this initiative has become the target of looters and thieves, many of whom with the full knowledge of the political elite in your party and government. This failure of government is also to be seen in the lamentable e.toll saga, in the handling of the farmworkers demands and essential decision-making in the highest office in the land: the appointments of the Chief Justice, of the Head of the NPA, in government by demands rather than by policy and principle, The picture that emerges is one of lack of leadership that is courageous about things that matter. Yes, we see it in the majority of appointments you make that, with notable exceptions, are lackluster and mediocre. These include appointments to cabinet, Provincial Premiers, and even political appointments to diplomatic service, and a gradual erosion of the independence of significant institutions like the judiciary by blatant political interference. These are nothing but an insult to the intelligence of South Africans.
Notwithstanding all this, there is a sense that this country is without an imaginative, transformative chief executive. Instead, where serious matters, as in the outrageous use of state resources to build extensions to your private home amounting to some R206m (if we accept Minister Thiulas Nxesi’s assurances, which no reasonable South African should!), you indulge us in the art of equivocation. Is it true that every room in the Nkandla Zuma Estate has been paid for by the Zuma family? Or is it that every room now occupied by the member of your family has been so paid for? You and your ministers so often address us with this double sense of the absurd, and obscured meaning to cover the truth. There is widespread use of state resources as a piggy-bank to meet the demands of your office or for electioneering or other forms of state patronage. Ministers like Tina Joemat-Peterson seem to labour under the belief that it is the responsibility of their office to make the resources of their offices to be available to the President at his beck and call. What about the Guptas, citizens of India who have managed to ingratiate themselves and wormed themselves into the very heart of this nation. The benefits are obvious: they get to summon ministers to their compound and issue instructions; they manipulate the cricket governing council with disastrous results; and the paper they publish has access to large resources from state agencies for which no other newspaper was ever invited to tender. Yes, we are in the midst of a new Infogate Scandal! It can only be in a ‘banana republic’ where foreign elements can succeed so easily. I wonder where else is that happening, and what about the security of the state? That would definitely never happen in India.
At the centre of this is a President who lacks the basic intelligence (I do not mean school knowledge or certificates), who is without the means to inspire South Africans to feats of passion for their country and to appeal to their best humanity. I mean being smart and imaginative, and being endowed with ideas and principles on which quality leadership is based. Our problem as a country begins by our having as head of state someone devoid of “the king-becoming graces’ to establish “virtuous rule”. It therefore sounds very hollow when you protest that as President you deserve respect. I wholeheartedly agree that the office of Head of State must be held with respect. But I submit that you are the author of your own misfortune. There is hardly any evidence that you are treating your high office with the due respect you expect of others; to bestow on the highest office in the land dignitas and gravitas is your duty. No wonder that there was a time that international observers were overly concerned about the unfinished business of criminal investigations against you, and of course, that little matter you are so proud of, your many wives and innumerable progeny – as one with potency to sow his wild oats with gay abandon. In your language this is about your culture. Besides there are far too many occasions of gratuitous disregard for the law and the constitution, and unflattering mention in cartoon media, and often your name features in associations with activities that suggest corruption. South Africans have very little reason to hold their President in awe or respect. On top of that the President makes promises he never keeps, and does not even think he owes anybody an explanation. What happened to the gentleman’s ethic, “my word is my bond”! Truth, while never absolute, must be the badge of good leadership.
My counsel to your friends and comrades who seek to protect your reputation by marching onto the Gallery and intimidate the owner of the gallery and the artist of The Spear, or those who are offended on your behalf by the Lady justice cartoon by Zapiro, or the Secretary General of the ANC who summons the Chairman of Nedbank, or the Chief Executive of First Rand for a telling off about the re-branding campaign of the FNB; or the offence caused to some by the decision by AmPlats to restructure its business operations and the threats it was subjected to; or the threats by the General Secretary of the Communist Party and his Stalinist Taliban to legislate respect for the President – none of that would be necessary if you yourself held your high office with a modicum of respect.
Besides these social ills we remain a divided society. We are not just divided by class and wealth (although that is true), or by race, or by gender as the pandemic of violence and brutality against women is the signature tune of our country to our shame; but most alarmingly, the ugly spectre of ethnicity and tribalism that has been accentuated during your Presidency needs to be nipped in the bud. Clearly, you are not the President to campaign against this malady, nor are you interested in operating above the tribal fray as other Presidents have done. Social cohesion clearly is not on your agenda. I do not mean just occasionally dressing down some opposition politician, or pointing fingers at “clever blacks”, or outrage at some indecent racist incidents. I do not even mean a badly organized Social Cohesion Conference or the discredited Moral Regeneration Movement. I mean a coordinated programme of government utilizing the instruments of state and institutions supporting democracy, like the Human Rights Commission, to drive a national strategy of social cohesion. Even universities, once the bastions of civilized life as WEB du Bois puts it, producing an intellectual corps for society that is critical, and independent, are now fast becoming reduced to apologists of failed government policies.
As a critical observer of government and the African National Congress under your leadership, I note that the tenor of government and party is fast drifting towards the conservative, authoritarian, reactionary organization, presiding over a kleptocratic state; and that is intolerant of South Africans expressing themselves. When leaders and governments know that they no longer rule with the consent of the ruled, and without their participation in their democracy they get to be afraid of even their shadows. It often takes on the persona of a playground bullyboy whenever it is unable to answer some pretty sharp critical questions about the conduct of government, and about the prevalence of crime and corruption in South Africa, or about false promises. The ANC is getting to take on a semblance of a mafia organization, a Big Brother that syndicates hard dealings against others, isolates and silences critical voices, and uses state patronage to neutralize and marginalize others. One can observe the makings of a totalitarian, fascist regime.
I am reminded proudly that it was not always like that. There has been much over time that South Africans can be very proud of. I can think of Josiah Gumede challenging John Dube for the leadership of the NNC in the 1920s where, as Peter Limb puts it in his magisterial study of THE ANC’S EARLY YEARS, the ANC had become miserable and “getting lost in mist and sea of selfishness” (does that not sound familiar?). Dube, it was judged, had become conservative, and associated with ethnic nationalism. What we miss today is that radical urgency that Josiah Gumede introduced into NNC politics, that uncompromising commitment to shape the destiny of the oppressed. Instead we get a party and President preoccupied with ethnic culturalism, and that has no idea about turning the tide of the economic life of the people of this country. There have been other examples as well which led to the ascendancy of Chief Albert Luthuli, and the removal of the likes of AB Xuma and James Moroka. Nowadays a conservative, reactionary tribal leadership is celebrated and lionised but never censured as it continues to keep a Machiavellian stranglehold and power over the organisation. The ANC is being held captive by reactionary, corrupt forces. The ANC is in danger of being reduced to a tribal club with hangers-on who seek patronage and a hand in the politics of theft. It is exactly such a tribalist sentiment that has caused the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development to drive relentlessly a piece of legislation like the Traditional Courts Bill whose constitutionality is suspect, but which more importantly, clearly undermines the advances this nation has made with regard to the rights of women, and it threatens to introduce a layer of criminal justice that parallels that established by the law of the land. In a land where some 50% of the population is made up of young people and women a leadership is required that trusts the instincts of young people and that radically eschews all forms of sexism and disregard for women. A not dissimilar sentiment especially in the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development must explain the abortive Secrecy Bill, and the secret revival of the National Keypoints Act is surely part of this culture of secrecy.
Besides, our country needs a President who understands democracy, especially that a constitutional democracy functions with checks and balances; that power is always exercised under check, and never in an arbitrary manner. The Head of State must be comfortable with the powers of the Constitutional Court and never to threaten at every turn to subject them to review, and to know that good governance flourishes with the oversight of parliament, and of independent organs of state, and that opposition parties are loyal opposition and patriotic and mandated by voters to champion particular positions in the public sphere. Opposition is of no mere nuisance value. It is the lifeblood of democracy. Some of your utterances suggest that you just do not get it.
I am raising my voice comprehensively now after having promised in 2009 that I shall hold my peace, and give your government a fair chance to perform. I had warned that much of your “victories” in the run-up to Polokwane and thereafter were merely pyrrhic victories. They would yet come to haunt you, I reasoned. Indeed, they have. But now any political analyst will warn that we are on a drift to a totalitarian state, twisted by a security machinery into silence and worse. Those of us who still have voice are obliged to warn against the prevailing trend. One way of addressing this confidence deficit would be for the President and all public representatives to be subjected to a probity test, to declare for public scrutiny their tax affairs, and all matters of conflict of interest. It is also not asking too much to expect that all public officers, including civil servants must express confidence in the system they preside over by sending their children to state schools, and to utilize public health facilities. This must surely include all public sector unions like NEHAWU and SADTU. Leadership matters. Leadership must be accountable and must be exemplary, and must be inspirational. That is where you fail.
Please spare us another five years under your leadership. Spare yourself any further embarrassment of ineffectual leadership. You will be judged harshly by future generations. I ask you solemnly, resign.