Are we scraping the bottom of the barrel for political leadership or has political leadership become immaterial in protecting our democracy?

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Where corruption exists, democracy is a nothing but an illusion. Corruption can lead to the looting of state resources by the powerful and most connected people, as a result disadvantaging the poor and in the process undermining important institutions of the country. Democracy is “the rule of the people by the people and for the people”. This means that the people decide what issues are important and need to be addressed. They decide who should be responsible in addressing those issues. The chosen people’s interests should be driven by one goal – addressing the issues of those who chose them.

Cheema defines democratic governance as “the range of processes through which a society reaches consensus on and implements regulations, human rights, laws, policies and social structures – in pursuit of justice, welfare and environmental protection”. In order for good governance to take place, corruption should be decisively addressed as a matter of agency. However, some might argue that corruption is problematic to define hence it makes it difficult to measure its effects in government.
Nevertheless, in order to fight corruption, poverty, and fast track excess of service delivery we need “radical” political leadership. Events of the past eight years have indicated that our current political leadership has deteriorated and a trend of weak minded and loud mouths is becoming a prevailing characteristic of leadership in this country. Politicians have chosen to serve those that feed them better and make them think they are politically apt rather than the country they initially claimed they would die for.

We are not only scraping the bottom of the barrel for political leadership these days but we are also failed by the most imperative institutions of the state. This is evident by the actions of our parliament regarding the ruling by the Constitution Court against President Jacob Zuma in 2016. The most essential independent state institutions are also seen as enemies of the former liberation movements and pseudo revolutionaries, specifically those who are always found in the wrong side of the law.
The battle for the Presidential position has begun within the ANC and so far with only the Deputy President Mr Ramaphosa and Dr Dlamini Zuma as the leading potential contenders for this position. Both of these leaders have flaws in terms of political leadership and have no clear progressive discourse of policy or at least a differentiated political philosophy, they so far have up held the same standards of the regressive discourse and stagnant policy ideology and execution. Nonetheless these leaders have contributed fairly to the current state of this country, Mr Ramaphosa a law graduate and a receiver of several honorary doctorates from local and international universities was one of the key role players during the negotiations for a democratic South Africa and the drafting of the country’s constitution (, 2014). Dr Dlamini Zuma has held various prominent positions in government offering her experience in various fields of the administration such as in the Ministry of Health, Foreign affairs and Home Affairs. Dr Dlamini Zuma completed several degrees including BSC Zoology and Botany, MBCHB medical degree and a Post Graduate Diploma in Tropical Child Health. She also made her contribution to society when she served in exile at various hospitals across Africa (African Union, n.d:1-2).

Both these potential candidates have great achievements but does that make them relevant leaders in South Africa today?
In the publication by the Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office (n.d) Prof. Steven Friedman argues that democracy assumes that every citizen is equally responsible for making decisions that are essential to them thus theoretically having leaders is redundant. He suggest that similar to ancient Greece, positions of leadership should be seen not as an “honour or an exultation” rather as a reverential societal responsibility, the Professor points out the fact that political leadership was not attained through populist engagements or what Prince Mashele calls in his book The death of our society , “Heroism”. Our leaders have no constructive and progressive discourse; we are led by “freedom fighters” that unlike Nelson Mandela have no tactic for the prosperity of this country.
Prof. Steven Friedman also suggests that political leadership has become immaterial in the fortification of democracy. He reasons by stating that democracy is made by institution such as the judiciary and Parliament, that as long as these institutions are rock solid it is irrelevant who holds political leadership in a democracy because “all democracies are started by visionaries and implemented by mediocrities”. Of course I think that this particular view of the Professor is ridiculous in many aspects yet I find it plausible judging from the caliber our current political leadership. Some people still have faith and realize the potential of South Africa’s leadership in general and one of these people is Mr Jeremy Routledge. Mr Routledge believes that even though we are facing great reports of corruption which he describes as “violence against the state and violence against the poor”, this country has the potential to continue to hold the moral high ground as advocates of liberation in Africa, on the other hand this opportunity “will not be there for much longer unless we start doing something about it.”

Consider all these perspectives and ask yourself if we are scraping the bottom of the barrel for political leadership then you shall realise we are in a predicament.


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I am a lover of current affairs and everything media, Strategic Corporate Communication student. I write to spark conversations, influence perspectives and inform.

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