Zuma’s dogs: Leaders have a responsibility to be clear and precise
December 29, 2012 § 4 Comments
We live in a time where a small thing can be made big (and stop it with your dirty minds). Everything a politician says is scrutinized. Particularly in this age of social networking and conspicuous consumption of media. Politicians need to be extra thoughtful about what they say in public to ensure that there is no need to clarify and justify later. Leaders need to be careful not to get carried away by the crowd they speak to, which is where a lot of politicians lose it. They see the crowd responding and laughing and run then just with it, without thinking about how the thing they have just said will be played out by the press. Politicians, particularly those in high profile leadership positions should know that every single word they utter is under great scrutiny, particularly from their political enemies.
I completely understand the larger point Jacob Zuma was making around South Africans not abandoning their cultures. If anything, I too am a proponent of the larger point he was making. I don’t think that people should abandon their cultures because they think that which is Western is better and what is African inferior. In fact, I am amused by people who presume that turning away from their traditional African values makes them sophisticated. Yet we also must admit that culture is constantly evolving. We need to add and take away in order for us not to remain stagnant. Culture is meant to grow us and instill in us an immovable and unshakeable internal character.
As a seasoned politician, Jacob Zuma should have known and expected his utterances to be taken the way they have. Our leaders have a responsibility to be clear when they speak; to unify and not divide. Jacob Zuma is a leader of South Africa not of South African blacks only. He needs to do himself justice and remember that.
To quote from my talk at the Cape Town Jewish Board of Deputies earlier this year where I touched on Helen Zille’s refugee comments, “Free speech comes with responsibilities and one must also accept the consequences that may come with that responsibility. The consequences of coming close to that line are not predetermined; they often come up when one doesn’t even expect them to. Helen Zille did not expect the firestorm that came with her saying the things she said. It was just a clear case of lack cultural sensitivities to the situation.
At the time, I said that the premier failed to apologise but instead, went down the meandering river of defending what should not be defended. She failed to be humble yet strong. To apologise yet make a point. Which was not surprising because the humility and sensitivity index is at an all time low in politics.
Considering her position in society, she should have been more sensitive about what she was going to say, particularly for someone who is the leader of an opposition which is under constant scrutiny – having the ANC always waiting for her to say something which will make it shout! “You are a racist!”
The unfortunate consequence of the sensitivity deficit is that when one speaks, and the language used lacks cultural sensitivities, everything that was said before or after is lost as we all focus on the cultural sensitivities. And then the point one was trying to make gets lost as everyone starts debating the cultural faux pas. In the case of politicians, leaders have a greater responsibility to be culturally sensitive than ordinary citizens,” end quote.
Most importantly, I think that leaders should put it upon themselves to be extra ordinarily clear about what they mean and to avoid room for misinterpretation, which may cause confusion. It is the duty of a leader to improve his communicating skills. If the president needs to, he must always read his speeches and refrain from winging it.
You can also find my previous blog on this issue, with the title, I am unAfrican