Zuma is not SA’s biggest problem

by Russell Pollitt SJ

Despite the antics that have rocked South Africa in the last week and have caused the country to lose billions, nothing will change. Social media was abuzz with the hashstag #ZumaMustFall. Marches calling for Zuma to go are being organised all over. We have seen and heard it all before – remember the #PayBackTheMoney tag or the march against corruption in October? They had little effect.

Some commentators say that Zuma’s backtracking on the appointment of David Van Rooyen as Minister of Finance is a sign that he is losing traction. I would not be too confident! The very fact that he back-pedaled is now being explained as if its business as usual – “this is how democracy works” and “we are listening to the people.” It’s not about democracy or listening, it is about saving face.

It is unlikely that Zuma will fall and more likely that it will be business as usual. Even if this was a “miscalculation” on Zuma’s part, it is one amongst many. The man limps from one dodgy situation to another. His track record is poor. Of course he won’t go. Life at the top is too good when you can (mostly) do as you please.

Zuma is not South Africa’s biggest problem. The bigger problem is that we have no leadership and because of this everyone of influence simply chooses to remain mute when he does the outrageous things he does. Even worse, some defend him. Ministers in government say nothing; senior ANC officials say nothing; people in big business complain around dinner tables about what he does but say nothing because they would rather pursue profit. Opposition parties exploit the gaps that are created for their own gain. Even the faith community, I’m sad to say, has – for the most part – said nothing.

Speaking in Kenya recently, Pope Francis said: “In the work of building a sound democratic order, strengthening cohesion and integration, tolerance and respect for others, the pursuit of the common good must be a primary goal.” South Africa suffers from a serious deficit of good leadership in all sectors. Good leadership focuses on and pursues this common good. It challenges decisions that are not in the best interests of those whom the leadership is meant serve. It’s not surprising, given the lack of good leadership, that Zuma acts with impunity.

If the ANC lived by its own principles and vision – “A better life for all” – those who can would have pulled the plug on Zuma a long time ago. For a long time he has sacrificed the common good for himself and his cronies. If those in big business were concerned about the common good, they would have found ways of putting pressure on influential people in the ANC to act. The leadership of the faith community have lost their nerve. They, for the most part, have decided to be cautious and quiet.

In pre-1994 South Africa there were many courageous voices from within the faith community. They constantly called attention to the common good. Some risked their lives to do so. If we stand for the values of Christ we must speak out strongly when sins against the common good abound.

Our problems are much bigger than Zuma. Until we have leadership that is passionate about the common good #WeWillAllFall.

Fr Russell Pollitt SJ
B.A. (UNISA) B.D. (Urbaniana) M.Th. (UKZN)

Fr Russell Pollitt SJ is the Director of the Jesuit Institute and is interested in the impact that communications technology has on society and spirituality. He regularly comments on South African Politics and various issues in the Catholic Church.

r.pollitt@jesuitinstitute.org.za @rpollittsj
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