Make politicians use public transport to teach them humility

Tuesday, 9 December, 2008 - 16:14

Much has been said recently about our political leaders using threatening blue light police escorts. The blue light scandals have left KwaZulu-Natal reeling from the shocking behaviour of our political elite that has become a predatory and reckless burden on society.

Much has been said recently about our political leaders using threatening blue light police escorts. The blue light scandals have left KwaZulu-Natal reeling from the shocking behaviour of our political elite that has become a predatory and reckless burden on society.

This clearly leads us to question the quality of our leadership. We all know that real leadership is about humility, gentleness, patience, self sacrifice and public service. We all know that the work of real leaders is to inspire ordinary people to believe in themselves and their society by bringing out the best in people. A real leader lives simply and listens more than she or he speaks. A real leader is there for other people.

But here in KwaZulu-Natal we have to contend with the monumental arrogance and reckless machismo of politicians who are literally willing to risk the lives of their people in order to create ridiculous spectacles to show off their power. The cartoonish strutting pomposity of our politicians is surely embarrassing.

There are no good security reasons for the blue light cavalcades. On the contrary they endanger the VIPs as much as anyone else. There is no meeting that is so important that it is worth terrorising and risking the lives of ordinary people to get there on time. There simply is no excuse for the cavalcades that are, quite clearly, nothing but a crude display of power.

It is never acceptable for a politician to engage in an enormous display of his own power. It is never acceptable for a politician to put the lives of ordinary people at risk so that he can look like a big, powerful man. These are basic democratic principles that are simply not negotiable.

The struggle against apartheid was not to replace one big man with another, albeit of a different colour. The struggle against apartheid was to replace one kind of society with another. This was why the whole world recognised its enormous moral power.

The kinds of power displays that we have seen recently are, like the husband who lords it over his cowering wife, quite clearly signs of a profound inner weakness. A leader who was confident that he was doing the best for his people, and that he had earned their respect, would never have to terrorise them into respect. One could hardly imagine Barack Obama or Evo Morales, not to mention Luthuli, Biko or Mandela, treating their people like some sort of vermin who should be shot off the roads.

The blue light scandals are just one sign of a deep crisis of leadership. All the ridiculous self promoting newspaper adverts taken out by politicians are another sign of this crisis. The penchant for body guards is another. The damaging arrogance with which the road naming process was handled is another. And we can add the blue flag debacle, the repression of poor people's movements and numerous other incidences where politicians have behaved with a ridiculous machismo, more like the high school bully than leaders with a capacity to inspire.

Perhaps the reason for the inner weakness of political elite, that has to compensate by acting like caricatures of tinpot dictators in B grade movies, is that in fact they are not serving their people and they know it very well.

For example, our housing policy comes straight from the World Bank. It is designed to force the poor out of the cities to free up land for speculation by the rich. Our development plan for the eMacambini area comes straight from Dubai and is designed for Dubai developers to steal our heritage. Our politicians have no vision of their own. While they career off to the next meeting with the World Bank or Ruwaad Holdings, ordinary people are getting poorer. Deep down, the politicians must know that they are betraying us, their people, when they expel the poor from the cities and hand over the ancestral land of a community for a theme-park.

Sometimes the way a person lives and how they do things is much more important than the ideology that they profess. I'm sure that most readers wouldn't really care if the blue light cavalcade tearing up behind them carried a Zuma supporter or an Mbeki supporter, or whether it carried a socialist or a capitalist. The thought likely to be foremost on the mind of the average citizen when confronted with a blue light cavalcade is simply whether or not they would get out of it safely.

If we do not all, across party lines and ideological divides, unite in the demand for a political leadership animated by principle rather than a desire for the most base displays of power we'll be the laughing stock of the world. The time to stop this madness is now.

Perhaps a first step would be for us all to unite in the demand that politicians spend the next month using public transport. Maybe that would bring them down to earth and give them some much needed humility.

Imraan Buccus is a university based researcher and PhD fellow in Development Studies at the Centre for International Development Issues - Radboud University Nijmegen.

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