Has President Zuma Betrayed His Own Leadership Philosophy?

Let me be honest, I was almost fooled by the answers and explanations given by the ANC at their press conference on 15 December 2015 at 1 pm. I think it was because they tried to project confidence, a balanced ANC at work, while instead they projected remnants of their core, their true self. And perhaps part of me still wanted to give Jacob Zuma the benefit of the doubt, believe that the positive feelings I felt while interviewing him in 2011 were accurate, that he didn’t change significantly from then until now, or that he didn’t fool me as an unauthentic leader that has always and only been in this for himself and those closest to him.

Unfortunately or fortunately, like many South Africans I had to sit back and look at this objectively. There were cracks in some of their responses. They had to attempt to communicate truth, because there were other credible individual’s involved in the flow of events, like top banking CEO’s, who would know if blatant lies were spoken. Once again it was shown that the ANC, Jacob Zuma and their needs surpass the needs and importance of South Africa as a whole ; that they don’t really listen to the Citizens of South Africa, as they profess to do. Endeavouring to position President Zuma as a sound, mature, honest, engaging, consultative leader was more important to them than anything else.   Jacob-Zuma-accompanies-Finance-Minister-Pravin-Gordhan-to-Parliament

Of all people I should believe that President Zuma consulted widely at all times, because when I interviewed him about South Africa’s frustrations around his indecisiveness, this was his response: ‘Having been in public life for quite a while, people would by now realise I don’t take a decision without really applying my mind. That does not in any way say you are indecisive. It is the wrong application of the expression, that you are indecisive if you don’t take a decision now. Take a hasty decision and you are going to be apologising all the time. I believe you need to think.’

He confidently explained his leadership philosophy to me: ‘My philosophy is I should lead in the collective, consult as I think it is important. At times people want to know why I consult so much. It is absolutely important to take everybody on board. Because if you have consulted you have a chance that you have a decision that will be defended by a collective, rather than a decision that will be defended by you only. And if you are a leader you must create that positive, collective leadership. It must not be lost. You must not be the one who thinks other people should create it. And you create it by the way you interact. You must allow someone to put across a view, and you engage, and you hear them. Then you hear other elements that help you see the picture differently.’

Based on this alone I should believe that what the ANC said during their press conference was true. But, as is often the case, they shared half-truths, which is also why I was almost fooled. What probably happened here is that our President initially turned his back on his own beliefs of what good leadership is, for whatever reasons, though one can reasonably assume selfishness blinded him once again.

Pres Zuma made a ‘hasty decision’ without ‘applying his mind’, without leading ‘in the collective’ or consulting widely, as per his leadership philosophy.  The result; he is ‘apologising all the time’, in a manner of speaking – he is repeatedly on the back foot. More accurately, others are unapologetically explaining on his behalf. To try and salvage the crises he was forced, in a very short period of time to listen and even consult widely, making a decision, or being forced to make a decision to bring back Pravin Gordhan.

When you listen carefully the ANC more confidently defends Pres Zuma’s decision to bring back Gordhan, most likely because this decision, out of necessity, followed after the application of his own leadership philosophy, which, considering the conditions, ended up as a sound decision – “defended by the collective”. Consulting widely does help.
As far as the decision to ‘redeploy’ Nhlanhla Nene and appoint David Van Rooyen is concerned, the ANC’s defence becomes shaky because Zuma, in large measure, acted alone, likely for selfish reasons or in favour of the interests of someone close to him.

I believe our President placed these personal and selfish motives before the needs of an economically brittle country and nation, which resulted in him deviating from his own leadership principles. The price we have paid and will continue to pay, by way of financial and reputational costs, as well as an increase in the trust deficit between leaders and followers in general are enormous. It necessitates an honourable action equal to the wrong that has been inflicted. Pres Zuma has to voluntarily step down by way of penitence, to attempt in some small way to restore honour to politics and leadership in general.  What is of grave concern is that the ANC does not see this.

Deep down we know Pres Zuma will not voluntarily  step down as we have experienced this over and over again, which is the very reason why the ANC should have demonstrated assertive leadership timeously. Unfortunately their window of opportunity has passed; missing their best possible moment to restore at least the ANC’s honour as a credible organisation. This might have been achieved by recalling President Zuma and announcing same yesterday during their press conference. If they had done this the petitions and marches would have come to an abrupt halt; a more credible leader would have taken his place; and the ANC would have set themselves up for a credible victory come 2016 elections. Instead they have played into the hands of the DA and EFF who are two of the few beneficiaries of weak leadership by Pres Zuma and the ANC.

Frankly, as a South African I don’t care which political party leads this nation. I care about whether the person at the top is a great leader or not and whether he/she is surrounded by more great leaders – all of whom put South Africa first; leading boldly, fairly and honourably and hopefully in like manner to the recently elected Tanzanian President John Magufuli, or former Uruguay President José Mujica. This is what we and in fact the world craves! We don’t crave political parties who are firstly in this race for themselves with the country possibly coming second – the very accusation directed at the President himself.

Sadly some parties like the DA seem to refuse to openly support marches organised by ordinary South Africans, even though they agree with the purpose of #ZumaMustFall. Yet another, the EFF, declines support for the #ZumaMustFall hashtag because it was started by white capitalists, according to its leader Julius Malema. I can go on with examples of short-sightedness and political leaders placing their own and party interests before the unity and needs of an entire country. One of the reasons the #FeesMustFall campaign has thus far succeeded is because young student leaders tried their very best to exclude party politics. Don’t you understand politicians, we crave great leadership, not political parties! If you don’t lead, the people will take matters in their own hands, as we see before our very eyes.

I am deeply concerned about the lack of unity in South Africa around important issues like race; B-BBEE; the National Development Plan; and much more. We deserve a leader that is authentic and can lead the essence of real transformation desperately needed in politics, business, sport, education…everywhere. Where is this leader that is going to take us forward…where? I think many of us know who she is…

She is someone that has consistently spoken truth to power. She has fearlessly respected and honoured her mantle to defend public interests. She has a sound value system and is principle centred.  She is vehemently despised by those in powerful positions that have something to hide, and they conspire to destroy her. She does not see black or white but sees right and wrong and is therefore supported by both black and white as a result. She does not desire a career in politics, which ironically makes her the ideal candidate. She is authentic to the core. We have to realise that in general someone like her doesn’t last in politics, but she is the kind of person our president should be. For the ANC to redeem itself and rebuild its image it must consider bringing back Kgalema Motlanthe to steady this sinking ship. Failing #BringBackMontlanthe, people might well then say, #ThuliForPresident.

This article appeared in the:

Business Report

on 17 December 2015

Adriaan Groenewald is a leadership expert and commentator. Follow him on Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP or @LeadershipPform.




Adriaan, as an accomplished author and leadership advisor, has been interviewing and working with top leaders for more than 15 years. He is the Co-Founder and CEO of Leadership Platform. (Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP)

Call: +27 (0)12 653 3022
Email: info@leadershipplatform.com

Follow Us

Leadership Platform is a specialist leadership development consultancy, focusing on creating measurable impact to the bottom line through the enhancement of leadership understanding and engagement.


By subscribing you will be updated with the latest insights and news from us. We never spam.