Democracy is SA’s casualty

Former Citizen Editor Steven Motale. Picture: Michel Bega

Former Citizen Editor Steven Motale. Picture: Michel Bega

Governing by crisis and spin – that’s what our government excels at.

It has refused to accept the reality that bad planning has triggered the power crisis that is holding back the already sluggish economy and threatening to scare off investors. Instead of accepting his administration’s blunder, President Jacob Zuma has attributed the mess at Eskom to the legacy of apartheid. ANC general secretary Gwede Mantashe ludicrously claimed our grid was strained because of “growth and development”. 

When Zuma’s friends abused their proximity to power, violated every aviation rule and landed a plane full of wedding guests at Waterkloof air base, what did spin doctors tell the nation? The Guptas were accused of name-dropping and Zuma’s lieutenants in the security cluster exonerated him. A few bureaucrats were made to shoulder the blame, one of whom was later handsomely rewarded with an ambassadorial post.

Now the country is in the middle of another embarrassing crisis – flames of hate are being unleashed on foreign nationals in attacks that are undoubtedly xenophobic. What are our leaders telling us? Ministers of the justice, crime prevention and security cluster were at pains battling to assure the country “everything was under control” and that there was no xenophobia. They further claimed the on-going violence against foreign nationals was “ideological”.

Even King Goodwill Zwelithini, whose thoughtless comments sparked the attacks in KwaZulu-Natal, is now denying making such remarks, thus taking cue from politicians who say something in public and later claim they were quoted out of context. Our leaders’ communication with the nation is, in most cases, a mixture of untruths and populist rhetoric, which fails to convince even the most gullible South African. Take, for instance, the visit by the ANC top six, led by Zuma, in 2013 to an ailing Nelson Mandela, which was filmed.

Despite visuals being broadcast of a frail and unsmiling Madiba, who was sitting impassively, Zuma unashamedly lied to us, claiming Madiba was in good shape and “up and about”. Another big lie about Madiba was told a year earlier by Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, who saw no shame in leading journalists to a hospital she claimed Madiba was admitted to, when the former statesman was, in fact, being treated at another facility.

Following that debacle, meetings between government officials and media representatives sought to establish a trust relationship which would enable the public to remain informed about Mandela’s health without undue intrusion. But the damage had already been done. Great leaders do not shy away from frank and honest communication. In the light of the many challenges facing the country, more than ever, we need courageous and honest leadership that will take the nation into its confidence while tackling these countless crises.

They may derive pleasure from misleading the country, but the damage these lies cause to the credibility of our leaders is incalculable. The chronic shortage of honesty and candour by our leaders will eventually erode citizens’ trust in elected public representatives. And when there is a breakdown of trust between the voting public and its leaders, democracy is the biggest casualty.


today in print