Once when we were government

South Africa’s successful hosting of the 2010 Fifa World Cup has put the spotlight back on President Jacob Zuma’s leadership abilities, writes HEINDRICH WYNGAARD.

On the eve of the closing of the 2010 soccer World Cup, former president Nelson Mandela was ‘killed while he was still alive’ – according to ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu – by an artist.

In his own creative, yet controversial interpretation of Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp, Johannesburg- based Yiull Damaso depicted Mandela as a cadaver. The late Aids activist Nkosi Johnson performs an autopsy, observed by a host of prominent South Africans, including Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and President Jacob Zuma. Former president Thabo Mbeki, who succeeded Mandela and presided over catastrophic turns in Aids policy, looks away.

Many have loudly objected to Damaso’s premature depiction of Mandela’s demise. Mthembu has called it ubuthakathi, or witchcraft, to show a living person as deceased. Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven has denounced the ‘exploitation’ of Mandela’s image for profit.

Mandela, or ‘Madiba’, has become an international icon and symbol of human rights and moral leadership. His tangible legacy was clear in an appearance at the closing ceremony of the World Cup – an event he worked to secure for South Africa, despite a self-professed retirement.

Damaso’s response to his critics is that his Anatomy Lesson raises important questions about the calibre and integrity of South Africa’s future leaders after Mandela is gone. Will they replicate his exemplary legacy, or will they be deaf to the cries of those in need – the poor and uneducated, homeless and jobless, and those infected with and affected by HIV/Aids.

Debate over Damaso’s painting is only on the surface of a larger question on the minds of many South Africans over the course of the World Cup, and brought home by Madiba’s appearance at Soccer City – whereto for the future of our leadership? It is now Zuma’s leadership abilities – or lack thereof – which are being dissected in an ‘autopsy’ by columnists and commentators.

Certainly, many have branded the World Cup itself a success. Danny Jordaan, CEO of the local organising committee, credited this to Madiba and all of his successors – Mbeki, Kgalema Motlanthe and Zuma – as well as the full range of supporters, right down to each fan who blew a vuvuzela and gave the event ‘a unique sound that will echo through sporting history’.

Surely, what will echo even more than the local trumpet’s powerful 115-decibel-plus blare is Jordaan’s own role in securing the World Cup bid, and follow-through in ensuring that planning and infrastructure deadlines were met. The Sunday Times has called him the man ‘who gets it all done no matter what, with no excuses and no delays’, while Fifa president Sepp Blatter was described as ‘the strong intransigent leader, intolerant and demanding’.

Nonetheless, Blatter gave South Africa a score of ‘9 going for 10’ out of 10 for the overall delivery of the tournament. If the World Cup were a university, Blatter suggested, South Africa’s performance would be cum laude, a pass with distinction. This rating, no doubt, also has a lot to do with the high profit margins of this World Cup, not least for Fifa.

Time magaizne also rightly predicted that the 2010 World Cup would generate ‘more intense planetary babble … than any other event in human history’, as the event was ‘dissected, tweeted, facebooked, googled, SMSed and scrutinised by billions on 400 TV channels in 208 countries’.

As leadership goes, apart from seeing their country and general ayobaness in global headline news for weeks, South Africans experienced visible policing in a way that has become unfamiliar in recent times. Special courts processed cases swiftly, in contrast with the endless postponements many have come to expect. New rapid public transport systems efficiently shuttled spectators around host cities. People loved their neighbours as they love themselves.

President Zuma has called for a party to celebrate these World Cup successes – but everyone else seems more concerned about the challenges that lie ahead.

Certainly government has proved its delivery capacity for this event – but according to Fifa’s strict deadlines, to which a failure to adhere would have spelled disaster. However, government has regretfully not yet shown us that it can deliver through sheer political will and hard work.

Mondli Makhanya, former Sunday Times editor, suggests that South Africa functions despite, rather than because of Zuma. The same can perhaps be said of his role in the hosting of the World Cup.

Zuma’s leadership abilities have also been criticised recently by Mpumelelo Mkhabela, deputy editor of the Sunday Independent, Mkhabela argues that Zuma’s consultative leadership approach, previously considered one of his foremost attributes, now signals indecisiveness. Zuma’s ‘open mind for debate’, Mkhabela writes, has ‘suddenly become meaningless as he hardly adds a well-thought-out argument to debates he has called, or welcomed’.

The president appears out of touch with what is happening in the country, and in no way is this better illustrated than in relation to the recent threat of renewed xenophobic attacks. In an interview with the SABC one day after the World Cup ended, he stated he was unaware of the prospects of any such violence, while reports of threats and attacks on foreign nationals were splashed across front pages around the country.

This is not the time for ignorance, complacence or shortfalls in leadership. As described by author Mark Gevisser, as a result of the success of the World Cup, there is a ‘heightened expectation that [the South African state] will apply the same purpose to the improvement of the lives of its own citizens’.

Wishful thinking? It doesn’t have to be.

The strength of the World Cup gees, or spirit, among South Africans should not be underestimated. Former cabinet minister Jay Naidoo suggests that the World Cup provides an opportunity for a ‘new beginning in dealing with the challenges we face in making our schools, hospitals and local government work’.

For Zuma, now is the time – as Naidoo suggests – to ‘ratchet up’ the calibre of national leadership.

If Zuma and his team don’t deliver in response to these expectations, they may find themselves reminded of the success of the World Cup with a totally different sound from the vuvuzela – the trumpeting of a gatvol electorate.

Heindrich Wyngaard is project leader of the Building an Inclusive Society and Ashley Kriel Youth Development programmes at the IJR.

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