South Africa is only as strong as the leader it holds responsible

31 January 2016 - 02:04 By Redi Tlhabi

It is a week to go before the annual state of the nation address - and last year's occasion was dramatic, for all the wrong reasons. The rumbustious EFF had decided to use the parliamentary stage for a theatrical #PayBackTheMoney performance.While there was widespread condemnation of their actions, my sense was that, overall, the public was sympathetic to the EFF as it felt that our No1, President Jacob Zuma, was poised to get away with the extravagance and decay called Nkandla.story_article_left1And it was quite clear that he was doing so with the full backing of his party, the ANC.The disapproval of the EFF's tactic was generally followed with a "But Zuma must pay back the money". Or, "But where else can parties raise this matter without being muzzled?"Who can forget the jamming of parliament's signal, which meant journalists could not exercise their duty to inform the public of what was going on? There was literally no way they could tweet, SMS and livestream from inside the house.My colleague vividly recalls how tenacious scribes recorded the unfolding spectacle anyway and hung out a particular window, to send the videos to the world.Only a desperate, highly strung leadership could authorise something so high-handed.The official line, of course, is that parliament does not know how this happened and there was no official decision to jam the signal. But we yawn because this barefaced lie is sleep-inducing and reflects their regard for our intelligence.block_quotes_start Let us raise the level of debate and demand the best of and for ourselves. Many nations have seen their dreams turn to ashes because of obsequiousness and lethargy block_quotes_endWe also pitied the hapless secretary of parliament, Gengezi Mgidlana, and the mumbling speaker, Baleka Mbete, because clearly they were stuck in antiquated modes of operating, as they did not realise that those in the house could actually record what was happening using their phones.story_article_right2However unpalatable, uncomfortable or inappropriate they deemed the actions of fellow parliamentarians, they had no right to decide for the citizens what they may or may not see.It was downhill from there with officers clad in Orlando Pirates colours brought in to remove the defiant EFF members.Parliament's sittings for the rest of the year continued in much the same vein, with dumbed-down debate, personal attacks, infantile tantrums and even invitations to "take it outside". It was a circus and the public was the poorer for it.Important parliamentary committee sittings were sometimes affected by non-attendance of members and an embarrassed ANC chief whip described the situation as "untenable".Stone Sizani was fuming after ANC MPs went awol, thereby denying parliament the quorum needed for a vote on the R1.3-trillion budget in March last year. Talk about a dumbing down of public discourse and a demonstration of disdain for pertinent matters.Some opposition MPs also treated us to their parades, with staged and regular walkouts and ill-fated motions of no confidence in the president.In a nutshell, 2015 was not a template for intellectual rigour and robust debate.story_article_left3Egos trumped policy and the wellbeing of South Africa was a dream deferred.This is a new year and we must start afresh. Yet, the year has already started with one-upmanship games over race and unemployment.A nation that does not reflect, ask hard questions and interrogate its leaders is a nation in the dark and a danger to itself.Let us raise the level of debate and demand the best of and for ourselves. Many nations have seen their dreams turn to ashes because of obsequiousness and lethargy. We dare not give any leadership that pleasure.It is with a sad heart that I put a full stop to my last column for this illustrious newspaper. I have had the pleasure of writing and interacting with readers since 2011 and have grown immensely. I am taking some time to focus on my studies. Good luck and thank you for reading my piece. The Sunday Times is a crucial platform for debate and inquiry. Long may it live.The Sunday Times wishes Redi all the best for the future and thanks her for her enormous contribution to the newspaper...

There’s never been a more important time to support independent media.

From World War 1 to present-day cosmopolitan South Africa and beyond, the Sunday Times has been a pillar in covering the stories that matter to you.

For just R80 you can become a premium member (digital access) and support a publication that has played an important political and social role in South Africa for over a century of Sundays. You can cancel anytime.

Already subscribed? Sign in below.

Questions or problems? Email or call 0860 52 52 00.