Opinion

Nine wasted years of dancing to Zuma's tune when they could have stopped him

A raft of ANC enablers must share the blame for bringing SA to its knees

14 April 2019 - 00:00 By KHULANI QOMA


In her riveting book about Mobutu Sese Seko's endless excesses - which set the Democratic Republic of Congo on a path to untold human reversal - Michela Wrong argues that "no individual can alone bear responsibility for a nation's collapse".
At surface level, this statement may be perceived to be in defence of a callous dictator, but it is intellectual rigour, not an attempt at exculpation. Leaders - democratic or autocratic - can only embark on excesses if there is a certain amount of acquiescence from the citizens.
As has been witnessed globally, citizens can rise up through marathon demonstrations or vote out the offending leaders. No leader is ever able to lead without some consent from the citizens. If they were, South Africans would still be saddled with apartheid.
It is the pinnacle of intellectual dishonesty - or pure ignorance - to place the entire responsibility on the leader of the day. This narrative is also extremely dangerous; it entrenches a culture of impunity in a world where resources are dwindling.
Former president Jacob Zuma has been subjected to the same narrative. State capture is attributed to him in its entirety. Even those noted for their intellectual robustness have fallen into the trap. They have made no attempt at objectivity; instead, they have become a lynch mob.
Politicians have taken full advantage of the narrative by coining the phrase "nine wasted years".
Many of those using the phrase backed the "Zuma years" in various guises. While he controlled the reins of power, they sang and danced for him, spitting in the face of South Africans in the process. Zuma's tenure was anchored by men and women of high social standing, who gleefully demonstrated their loyalty to the man.
Within the government, cabinet members and parliamentarians got to vote on motions of no confidence in him. In his own party, the ANC top six and its national executive committee (NEC) had the authority to keep him in check.
These structures cannot claim to have been powerless to oppose his patently irrational decisions. We now know that Fikile Mbalula tried to curb the excesses, but his attempts failed due to lack of support from his fellow NEC members.
A few examples decisively debunk the "nine wasted years" trope:
In his statement during Zuma's term, Gwede Mantashe, who was part of the top six, said: "The NEC takes collective responsibility ." Isn't this in concurrence with Wrong's assertion? This was an honest statement by Mantashe, given the natural permutations of leadership decisionmaking, particularly politically.
In defence of Zuma, SACP leader Blade Nzimande characterised the disquiet about the Nkandla homestead as "white people's lies". He further stated that the Nkandla reports were "lies perpetrated by white people".
Nzimande appears to have moved on from Zuma - he has suddenly morphed into his fiercest critic - and we now know that the Nkandla situation was a huge opportunity cost for millions of impoverished citizens.
The protest against the Nkandla saga was certainly not "white people's lies". Nothing should surprise us about this, as race has been weaponised to divert the nation from the looting of state resources.
Former police minister Nathi Nhleko sweated blood in his desperation to "sell" the Nkandla lie to the nation. Nhleko is a sentient being with high levels of education, but he wilfully made a clown of himself.
The landing of the Gupta airplane at Waterkloof was purportedly facilitated on Zuma's behalf, but Zuma wasn't alone in this journey. He was assisted by men and women of sufficient agency who could have objected to his instructions or even stopped him completely.
If you believe the blatant fallacy that Zuma is the only one to blame for our current woes, you are at risk of believing anything. This narrative is convenient, unscholarly and lazy. It lacks intellectual rigour. It is as ridiculous as believing in the existence of white monopoly capital or Stratcom.Indubitably, as a leader Zuma has to shoulder the biggest portion of the blame. But apportioning all the blame to one person entails a fatal risk for our nation; it sets a precedent that permits impunity and a lack of personal accountability among its citizens, especially the executive leadership under Zuma.Why would citizens take personal responsibility when they can easily claim to have committed impropriety as a consequence of abiding by a leader's instruction?We have seen a couple of senior executives from Eskom and Bosasa using this excuse for aiding and abetting impropriety. They were only following instructions from the "top", they say. These are senior people who could have refused these instructions and brought the looting to a halt.It is worth mentioning that junior employees have related their horror stories to the Public Investment Corp inquiry. Their rejection of illegal instructions was met by debilitating victimisation. These citizens are worthy of our collective support for elevating our country's interest ahead of the natural inclination for self-preservation.Dangerous self-preservation has to be exposed and condemned, particularly when perpetrated by senior executives. It is a grave deviation from this country's ethos of self-sacrifice.Africans, coloureds, whites and Indians joined hands and stood up against apartheid, even though doing so carried the risk of death. Intellectual rigour requires us to defend even our worst enemies when necessary - Zuma deserves all the scorn he can get and we don't have to deploy intellectual dishonesty to achieve this end.• Qoma, a reputation specialist, writes in his personal capacity

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