The political leadership in South Africa has been marred by a litany of challenges that include alarming levels of unemployment, economic deficiencies and corruption.
Speaking at the Metals and Engineering Indaba in Johannesburg, Sandton, independent director of companies, Dr Mamphela Ramphele said South Africa had not been spared the trauma of liberators becoming predators that gobble up resources including hollowing out state enterprises as rewards for sacrifices made during the struggle.
“For our esteemed president to put his conscience aside points to the kind of political culture which makes it difficult to fight corruption.
“Post-colonial Africa has yet to produce leaders whose mission is to advance the common good by promoting participatory democracy, social justice and prosperity for all,” she added.
Ramphele argued that if there was an absence of people in leadership and citizens who understood how they had been wounded by centuries of humiliation and abuse, they would not be able to understand why corruption has set in so deeply.
“Our leaders remain rooted in greater loyalty to their political parties and comrades in the struggle than to the nations they’re meant to serve.
“The conflation of the president, the party, the government and the state lies behind the shameless state capture that characterises governments across most opposed colonial Africa.
“There’s no hope for the multitudes whose hopes for a better life are dashed every day,” she said.
Meanwhile, controversial ANC MP, Dr Makhosi Khoza did not think political leadership was engaging honestly with the challenges South Africa is confronted with, especially when dealing with issues of economic growth, restoration of human dignity and the unemployment rate in South Africa.
She believed that South Africa’s bilateral trade agreements with other countries boiled down to political leadership.
“For as long as we have morally compromised leadership there is no way we can review the bilateral trade agreements that are not necessarily benefiting our local industries.
“We don’t understand the extent of cheap Chinese imports to South Africa,” she said.
In her constituency in KwaZulu-Natal, Hillcrest, she said, thousands of jobs were lost in the chicken industry.
She quoted Scott Pitman from RCL Foods (which owns Rainbow and Farmer Brown), who said that “letting 1 300 people go at the end of the month will be the saddest day in my career. How do you get rid of people who have given you loyal service, some for as long as 40 years?”
Khoza was concerned that families would bear the brunt of suffering.
“Political leadership matters because behind the unemployment statistics are people who yearn to have their dignity restored.
"Theirs is no way we can restore people’s dignity for as long as they are unemployed. There’s no dignity in unemployment,” she said.
Earlier this year, Khoza engaged with some of the young men from her constituency who waited desperately for job offers.
She recounted their qualms and sought to paint a picture of the reality of youth unemployment in South Africa.
“One of them said: ‘The one thing that you politicians don’t understand is that I am 35 years old but I have never been employed. If I happen to get an odd day’s job I return home happy to earn my family’s respect because I can at least buy a loaf of bread.’”
She said another young man spoke of how he would resort to crime.
“When political leadership is indifferent about the plight of these young men, who have never worked, I think as country we are missing the point.
"We need to question whether the bilateral trade agreements that we have serve the interests of our people.
“In the manufacturing sector there are entrepreneurs who feel let down by the government because of the extent of cheap Chinese imports to South Africa,” said Khoza
She said that the impoverished and jobless were being left behind – 56% of the unemployment statistics that we talk about comprise the youth, some of whom form part of the Fees Must Fall campaign.
“Fees Must Fall is not only a university issue. All these issues, including unemployment, are interrelated and they boil down to the capacity of the leadership that we have.
"Is this leadership able to transition to the new democratic, constitutional dispensation?
“To restore people’s dignity is about the material benefit that they are going to derive from this new South Africa they’ve been waiting for. In other words, we are betraying the mission of the very liberation movement when we become corrupt and indifferent about the people we are supposed to be leading.
Khoza said if political leadership was serious about prosperity for every citizen in this country, they should address unemployment or the scourge would persist.
Lambasting President Jacob Zuma’s recent Cabinet reshuffle Khoza said: “We are a small, open economy operating in this an international financial space but it was easy for the president in a country with a double digit unemployment rate, to decide to reshuffle his Cabinet in the middle of the night and kick out everybody at national Treasury.
“We can talk about economic growth and draw graphs but if we don’t understand that whatever we are doing is about people, then we have a problem.”
Speaking at the sidelines of the conference, Khoza said she would not be intimidated by anyone for raising a dissenting voice against the current political leadership.
It is not the first time she has criticised political leadership publicly.
At the same time, ANC treasurer-general and presidential hopeful, Dr Zweli Mkhize, conceded that South Africa was plagued with corruption, with several mayors and MECs charged and removed from their positions.
He said state capture was a serious concern that needed to be dealt with expeditiously and transparently through the proposed judicial commission of inquiry.
“The issues are a major concern to South Africa as they erode public confidence in political leaders. Abuse of state resources must be avoided at all costs,” said Mkhize.
He said the contentious call for the removal of Zuma had created divisions within the ANC.
“President Zuma is not seeking another term in office and there will emerge a new credible leadership after the December elective conference.
“There’s a crack in the party which erodes the growth opportunity. We [the ANC] acknowledge our weaknesses of divisions, factionalism and the manipulation of structures,” said Mkhize.
He insisted on clean governance, job creation and economic growth.
“We have made a commitment to radical economic transformation in South Africa to build a new and prosperous country,” said Mkhize.