Jacob Zuma has been president for three months but where is he? We get the odd pic of him at the G8 uncomfortably returning a strong hand put out by US President Barack Obama but as yet he has shown no leadership.

He worked so hard and waited so long for this job, surely he had a game plan?

We have heard nothing from him on strikers holding shift bosses hostage underground at mines, he has remained silent about the ongoing insulting lunacy of Julius Malema. He has not gone to pacify areas like Diepsloot where ongoing rioting against housing delivery is seeing increasingly dangerous clashes with police. He has made no utterance about trade figures that are plunging through the floor — factory output down 17.1%, mining down 14.5% at a time when the gold price is close to record highs and the economy is set to be R60 billion short in tax collection this year according to Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan.

Zuma said he wants 500 000 jobs created before the end of this year but has given no plan on how this should be achieved, instead we have shed at least 200 000 jobs already. He said a month ago he would soon present a plan for how companies would be compensated for training workers instead of retrenching them; again no plan has been presented.

Instead we hear Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies suggesting that government needs to intervene in the industrial sector. Great. They can’t manage hospitals; schooling is the worst it has ever been in the history of this country with less than 29% of those who begin school completing it and many of those who do, complete school functionally illiterate and innumerate. Everything the government touches turns to sludge and now they want to meddle with the private sector including heightened threats from the unions that the mines should be nationalised.

Woza Zimbabwe.

Where is Jacob Zuma and when will he lead?

The only political figure who has yet shown leadership and strong performance in these first three months is Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane who moved strongly against corruption and abuse of position in her early days, but has remained mum on a government contractor that received R56 million and built no houses while she was housing minister for Gauteng. But Mokonyane is a profoundly ethical individual, which will probably be her undoing in this land where the corrupt prosper; it would be unlike her not to act.

Zuma’s failure to be presidential is of singular concern at a time when the economy is on the skids and South African lawlessness in every sector threatens to humiliate South Africa before the world in its attempt to host the 2010 Soccer World Cup. We will have beautiful stadiums, remarkable roads in the host cities and stylish though chaotic airports but the venality of our populace will destroy us unless Zuma begins exhibiting the moral leadership this nation so desperately requires. Now is a fitting time to begin, it is Moral Regeneration Month — not that anyone would notice it.

Mamphela Ramphele, who readers of The Weekender newspaper voted South Africa’s top intellectual, has been travelling the country explaining the Dinokeng scenarios. These are the result of a collaboration of 35 top thinkers sponsored by Old Mutual. They reflect on the consequences of what will happen if South Africa does not transform. At the Wits Business School in Johannesburg last week she said: “We have underestimated what it takes to transform ourselves from the past to the future we desire.” She said: “Today we are glued to the material benefits of keeping quiet.”

She suggests that a culture of silence for fear of losing future tenders is endangering our future. On election day I was paying for goods at Woolworths Sandton and the man at the cashier next to me was loudly proclaiming: “When I go into the ballot box I’m going to take a picture of where I put my cross and attach it to future tender documents.” Where else would someone say that out loud and expect no negative comment?

Ramphele painted some challenges we face:

• We have a high current account deficit — 8.1% of GDP in 2008

• Land reform hasn’t worked

• 50% of 20 to 24-year-olds are unemployed

• A citizenry that is increasingly becoming dependent on the state — over 13 million citizen receive social assistance benefits. And last year the department of welfare increased the social relief budget from R124 million to R624 million.

Ramphele said that leadership has failed in the public and private sector. She said South Africa has a leadership that reflects a culture of materialism and narrow self interest and a lack of ethics and accountability. Or “me, myself and I”. Ramphele gives it another term, “the arrogance of dominance”.

The Dinokeng scenarios warn that if we do not change, then by 2018 we will be under the “Rule of a Strongman”, in other words a dictator — that is only nine years away. In essence by our silence and inaction we will have invited the worst-case African scenario into our land.

She and the Dinokeng scenarios suggest that we need an engaged citizenry — every individual, every company, all religions and organisations need to register their disquiet over and over again at the trends we see. A third of parliament is women but who among them protests the insulting comments of African National Congress Youth League leader Julius Malema about raped women?

We have become the nation of big bums. We never get off our chair, we never rise to be heard and most certainly not seen. We send caustic circular emails to our friends, we argue in the comment boxes of blogs, we do email petitions that never leave computers, we gripe interminably at dinner parties but we don’t implement the change that is needed in our companies, government departments and personal lives.

In the land of I, we have all become blind.

While the economy was the richest it had been in 60 years, we did not create jobs nor did government encourage it. Former president Thabo Mbeki was away trying to tell other African countries what they should be doing to succeed, at home he built a multimillion-rand home and increased the budget for VIP protection services so screaming motorcar cavalcades would announce the “king” and his lackeys. Zuma’s “government of the people” has not discarded such pretence.

When the economy, such a short time ago, was so flush, South Africans bought holiday homes and bigger cars, the nouveau riche brought in interior designers for their homes and bragged how they had Louis Vuitton bags in different colours to match their outfits. Few created jobs.

Moeletsi Mbeki in discussing his new book, Architects of Poverty, notes:

    “The ANC saw Afrikaner nationalism as its enemy. But what has the ANC done? It set out to emulate, through black economic empowerment, white capital. Look at the massive salary differences between ANC officials in government and the masses.

    “They don’t create wealth; they are a parasitic elite that lives off the existing assets they didn’t create. It is the same with the BEE tycoons in South Africa. They are living off the assets handed to them by existing companies. They are not a bourgeoisie; yes, they are wealthy but they are not capitalists. About 70% of South Africa’s GDP goes into private consumption (the latest SA Reserve Bank figures show it is now 82%). By comparison about 40% of China’s GDP goes into consumption. The rest goes into investment.

    “If you compare China and South Africa you can see why China is creating jobs. In 1985, 78% of footwear sold in South Africa was made locally; now 83% of shoes sold in South Africa are made in China. In just 20 years we have witnessed the collapse of our industry. In 1997, 23 000 people were employed in the footwear industry; this figure has dropped to 10 000. We no longer make our shoes; we are now importers. And shoe manufacturing is not a high-technology industry.

    “If it carries on this way, South Africa is headed the way of all African countries.”

And that is where we are going at a rate of knots because inaction and silence implies consent.


  • Charlene Smith is a multi-award-winning journalist, author and media consultant. She has had 14 books published, one of which was shortlisted for an Alan Paton award. Television documentaries for which she has worked have also won awards. She has worked as a broadcast journalist and radio-station manager. Smith's areas of expertise are politics, economics, women's and children's issues and HIV. She lives and works in Cambridge, USA.


Charlene Smith

Charlene Smith is a multi-award-winning journalist, author and media consultant. She has had 14 books published, one of which was shortlisted for an Alan Paton award. Television documentaries for which...

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