Language and behaviour of our leaders fuels intolerance, lawlessness, violence

The nation is looking for answers and it’s our leaders that are found most wanting. They are the ones ushering us down the path to calamity.

Xenophobia, violence, looting, displacement, unemployment, murder, loadshedding, destruction, vandalism are all terms hogging the nation’s attention once again. In amongst the cacophony of shrieks and wails is the ever-familiar refrain “where are our leaders”? The response, particularly but by no means exclusively from government, is invariably dramatically underwhelming. We are a country in the midst of an avalanche of crises; one following so quickly on the other it’s difficult to stay abreast. The nation is looking for answers and it’s our leaders that are found most wanting. They are the ones ushering us down the path to calamity.

In social media terms South Africa is hashtag heaven.

In social media terms South Africa is hashtag heaven, which seems to be the nearest we can get to any kind of good place right now. It’s a truly abysmal state of affairs, and it’s vexing to find any meaningful relief in the short term. On the contrary, many of our leaders’ insistence on evading accountability, default demonstration of intolerance, penchant for childish public spats, appetite for defiance in the face of the law and their downright selfishness is lubricating our slide into the abyss.

Small Business Development Minister Zulu, another minister dogged by controversy.

Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu recently opined that foreign business owners should share their best practice with local shopkeepers. She stated that “[f]oreigners need to understand that they are here as a courtesy and our priority is to the people of this country first and foremost… They cannot barricade themselves in and not share their practices with local business owners”[1]. According to this logic, government should demand that Rosatom share their advanced nuclear technology with Eskom or that the BBC share its Public Broadcasting strategy with the SABC. It’s the very antithesis of free market enterprise, and it creates an expectation amongst South Africans that they are entitled to a helping hand or worse, a free ride.

We need to lock foreigners out of our country in order to protect us from ourselves.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe told residents in Doornkop that immigration laws needed to be strengthened to protect the country from terror organisations gaining a foothold[2]. Spoken within the context of xenophobic attacks, this is nothing short of fear mongering. His comments implicitly support the widespread suspicion that foreigners are “stealing” jobs and goes further to suggest that if we’re not careful we’ll be infiltrated by Boko Haram or IS. He’s right of course, it should not be a “free for all”, but why is it that he chooses to refer to immigrants in such an inflammatory manner precisely at a time when he should be defusing tensions? What he’s in effect saying is that we need to lock foreigners out of our country in order to protect us from ourselves. The astoundingly cretinous logic aside, this message, to an angry, frustrated, disgruntled public, is one that underpins a prevailing sense of entitlement and actively encourages intolerance of and disaffection towards foreigners.

His Majesty, who has to get by on R54m a year of taxpayer’s money.

Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, in an apparent if unintended ironic play on his name, displayed anything but goodwill towards foreigners when (during a moral regeneration speech nogal) he referred to them as “lice”, then denied it before being caught out and resorting to that old chestnut of being “quoted out of context”, only to spin himself into yet another web of deceit in a pathetic attempt to spread the blame to that Tokoloshe of the political elite, the imaginary third force and the media in general.

Mbete has developed an appetite for throwing honourable members out of the House

“If we don’t work we will continue to have cockroaches like Malema roaming all over the place”

Then there’s our National Assembly Speaker and ANC National Chair Baleka Mbete’s use of the term “cockroach” in reference to EFF leader Julius Malema, evoking grisly memories of the Rwandan Interahamwe genocide. What kind of leader invokes a term impregnated with the most debased form of human behaviour on a political opponent? A highly irresponsible, immature and insecure one I’d suggest. But then Mbete’s insecurity is legendary, and her handling of the presidential question time in Parliament nothing short of desperately farcical. The message it sends is that intolerance is not only acceptable, but also a requirement of high office. At a time when the country is drowning in intolerance, that the Chairperson of the ruling party chooses to set this type of example is more evidence that many of our current senior leadership have long since shunned the principles of the ANC old guard, the Constitution and plain old-fashioned maturity.

Go out…bastard! Go out! You bloody agent!

Julius Malema, poster boy of fatuous ideology and recklessly tawdry rhetoric.

Malema, politics’ poster boy of fatuous ideology and recklessly tawdry rhetoric, and one apparently thoroughly immune to irony, just last week yelled in Parliament, “Mr President you taught our people that everything should be resolved through violence. You must take full responsibility [for these xenophobic attacks].” He’s not altogether wrong of course, but this is an archetypal case of pot and kettle. The ANC gave birth to and nurtured Malema, and Zuma cunningly used him as the poisoned tip of his spear in the grimiest underside of politics where his insatiable appetite for attention created a flimsy but narcissistic symbiosis. That fairytale ground to a predictable halt, but not before a slew of invective between the party and Malema cast a puerile public display of yet more intolerance and egoism on the national stage. This same Malema who urged “fighters” to physically destroy e-tolls, who has twice been convicted by a court of hate speech. The same one who barked at a BBC journalist “[y]ou are a small boy you can’t do anything. Go out…bastard! Go out! You bloody agent!” This same Malema who at a recent rally in Langa spewed forth, “I am challenging you. Revolution is not a legal activity. The fighters of Western Cape, I am challenging you. That statue of Botha must go down, and how it goes down is your business. How it goes down I am not interested, but make a plan.”[3] The same Malema who led the EFF MPs to a churlish disruption of Parliament in order to get his way. The same one who infamously declared “[w]e are prepared to die for Zuma. We are prepared to take up arms and kill for Zuma”. Even the bad apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Leaders are very capably demonstrating that deception, arrogance, intolerance, violence and disrespect are the means through which to achieve.

Is it any wonder that vandalising artworks, even “offensive” ones like Rhodes and van Riebeeck with excrement and spray-paint is considered not just acceptable, but appropriate in some circles? Or that such items should be permanently destroyed, like the Taliban decimated the Buddhas of Bamiyan or IS the ancient Syrian cultural heritage sites of Aleppo, Homs and Damascus? Is it any wonder that bullying, thuggery, vandalism and intimidation are the standard calling cards of protest? Universities are institutions of higher learning, where those priviliged enough to attend are expected to uphold a standard of tolerance and open mindedness. Yet some UCT students, led by the SRC no less, felt it justifiable to forcefully occupy an administration building for 5 days and hold the university to ransom over the removal of the statue. I am not reflecting on the merits or demerits of the removal of the Rhodes effigy, but on the manner in which the student leaders conducted themselves. Whatever the frustrations they experienced, there is no justification for unequivocal demands achieved through force. But then perhaps the students took their cue from the SAPS’ actions at Marikana, or Parliament’s use of private security to have all the EFF representatives forcefully removed from the House, or Malema’s call for destruction by any means, legal or not. Wherever we look, leaders are very capably demonstrating that deception, arrogance, intolerance, violence and disrespect are the means through which to achieve. Their language, laced with invective, is far too frequently that of vituperative cowards and thieves, bullies and gangsters, malefactors and beguilers. Every day they feed us a staple diet of degeneracy. Is it any wonder that we’re turning on our African brothers and sisters, those who sheltered us in our hour of greatest need, and shamelessly beating, burning and stabbing them like savages? Xenophobia is a complex phenomenon, but intolerance isn’t. Colonialism and Apartheid may have cast this mould, but it is broken promises, systemic corruption and selfish leadership that is keeping us in the quagmire.

Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula tore himself away from a game of golf to bizarrely express this message on Instagram: “Happy Friday everyone, down with xenophobia”.

Happy Friday everyone, down with xenophobia.

It’s not just our President who sets the tone, but having encouraged it with his venal brand of cronyism he bears responsibility for a great deal of it. From his testimony at his rape trial to his repeated stymying of the criminal justice system to his countless denials and abrogating over R250m worth of upgrades to his private residence, Jacob Zuma and his acolytes have displayed to the public that crime, deception, lies, intolerance and violence does indeed pay. Generations will live with the consequences thereof, and they will be that much the poorer for it. Cry indeed, beloved country.

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