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Are South Africa’s politicians pleasers or doers?

Are South Africa’s politicians pleasers or doers? These two categories of politicians came to my attention courtesy of an article by Don Russell, who was once an adviser to former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating. Russell describes pleasers and doers thus:

Pleasers will try not to upset people, will seek approval from as many groups as possible, and will try to shield the electorate and themselves from bad news.

Doers will identify problems and be seen to deal with them. Doers tend to maintain a dialogue with the electorate and tend to want to educate people. They tend to seek acknowledgment for tasks accomplished.

Not surprisingly, Russell is in the camp of the doers, who, he argues, are better at dealing with problems, especially problems in the glare of the media:

“For a doer, transparency can be an asset; the identification of problems is the basis for the next set of recognised achievements. For a pleaser, transparency can be scary; once a problem is identified, it may need to be dealt with, which can have unpredictable and possibly painful consequences.”

Relate Russell’s observations to South Africa’s current politicians and it becomes clear that, while Thabo Mbeki entered office as a doer (Zapiro even depicted him as Mr Delivery), consensus right now would appear to indicate that he has largely failed on that account. So now he is neither a pleaser nor a doer, and the same applies to most of his cabinet. Alec Erwin? Manto Tshabalala-Msimang? The Nqakulas? Neither pleasers nor doers* the lot of them, and the fact that they are still in office and not mouldering in dignified obscurity is an insult to all South Africans everywhere.

Part of Jacob Zuma’s appeal for some people lies in the fact that he is a pleaser. He is so busy pleasing everyone from white squatters, to the trade unions, to international investors, that it is not clear what he plans to do once he gets into power. He has become the anti-Mbeki, which really means that he stands for very little.

Mosibudi Mangena, Minister of Science and Technology, appears to be one of our more accomplished doers. We see or hear very little of him, but he is always highly rated by those in the know. For opposition politicians, it is much easier to be a pleaser than a doer, as — in South Africa especially — they will never get into office in order to actually do anything. Helen Zille is not perfect by any means, but she does appear to be a doer. Or has at least successfully positioned herself as one.

Any other suggestions on our political pleasers and doers? (Was Madiba, for example, just a pleaser?) Do we need another category, as one person suggested on another forum, for “deniers”? (Or de naaiers, as the cynics might have it.)

I would love to hear your suggestions.

* I may be wrong on that point. Alec and Manto have done things. Too many things. In fact, if they did less, we might be better off.


  • Sarah Britten

    During the day Sarah Britten is a communication strategist; by night she writes books and blog entries. And sometimes paints. With lipstick. It helps to have insomnia.