30 March 2017

The funeral yesterday of ANC stalwart Ahmed Kathrada was yet another signal that a changing of the guard is under way in South Africa. Prior to his death Kathrada was one of three Rivonia trialists still alive. His generation has exemplified self-sacrifice, humility, honour and servant leadership. The refusal by Kathrada’s family to grant President Jacob Zuma a place in the spotlight at the former Robben Islander’s funeral has sent a clear message: Zuma is not regarded as a fit successor to this line of liberation heroes.

In fact, one year ago Kathrada expressed this very sentiment when he wrote to Zuma imploring him to step down after the Constitutional Court found the president had violated his constitutional duties. Yesterday Kathrada’s appeal was repeated and amplified to an almost deafening degree when former President Kgalema Mothlanthe read out parts of Kathrada’s letter to Zuma at Kathrada’s funeral. This should not have come as a surprise. Only a few days earlier Zuma so thoroughly erased any defence of his right to leadership that a response to his recent actions was demanded.

Reading between lines of reports on the Gupta’s ANN7 news channel, it is evident that the reckless manoeuvre by Zuma on the night of Kathrada’s death to unnecessarily bring back the Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas from an international investment roadshow was for one reason only: the removal of principled hands from the controls of the Treasury. Once more, as he intended in 2015 with the deceitful removal of Nhlanhla Nene and the economically ruinous appointment of Dawid Des van Rooyen as finance minister, Zuma is trying to put the nation’s purse strings into the hands of a Gupta crony.

This will facilitate the final and most devastating assault by the state capture project and almost inevitably set South Africa on course to failed state status. In acting as he has Zuma has not only dragged the country to a precipice, but is ruthlessly dangling its people over the edge. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela said as much yesterday, noting that the country was at crisis point. Something has to give. South Africa it seems, is no longer big enough to contain both Zuma in his capacity as president and the rest of the nation. But a shift is not only underway within the ANC. The DA too, is experiencing ructions in its upper leadership levels. There is no need here to rehash the Helen Zille tweeting saga, save to say that in persistently choosing to behave in a highhanded and superior fashion, Zille too has disqualified herself from the league of true leadership.

As Kathrada and his generation have shown us, real leadership is never about oneself – it is about the service of others and the pursuit of the greater good. Its requirements are invariably hardship and great personal sacrifice, and the mark of greatness is stamped with a humble heart. A changing of the guard is taking place in South Africa. Guards are meant to do exactly what the word implies – defend and protect, not destroy or inflame. The time of the Sauls and the other pretenders is over. Both Zuma and Zille must move aside and allow real leaders full entry. The question actually being asked is not whether they should go, but how. And who will follow in their stead.