The writer argues that in light of the Nkandla report, President Jacob Zuma is ethically unfit for leadership. Photo: Itumeleng English

The Nkandla report clearly shows that ethical and technical competency is in short supply within the government, says Eusebius McKaiser.

Johannesburg - I read one of the most shocking attempts to defend President Jacob Zuma the other day on Twitter. The spokesperson of one of our government ministers rushed to point out the fact that the public protector did not – and of course cannot – find President Zuma criminally guilty of corruption. This guy, like many ANC voters, misses the Nkandla point.

First, it is now clear from the full report that the president was in fact consulted at various times about aspects of the upgrades that happened at his residence in Nkandla.

So there is a prima facie case of misinforming Parliament that requires fuller airing. Remember, Zuma’s main defence so far has been to plead ignorance. Either some folks who submitted evidence to the public protector are liars, or the president has an unfaithful relationship with truth.

Either way a member, or members of, this government lied to the public.

Second, and more important, is that this government spokesperson is being absurd in thinking that only if a politician or public servant is found guilty of a crime should they be criticised or calls be made for them to exit the political stage.

It is not just convicted criminals who are bad for society. Unethical leaders are bad for society. And, equally important, ethically minded leaders who are ineffective are also bad for society.

And this is the crux of the Nkandla story that you miss if you simply say “He was not found guilty by a court of law”.

In the best-case scenario, Zuma looks ethically unfit for leadership following the Nkandla report. In addition, he looks ineffective at being chief executive of SA Inc.

In the worst-case scenario (which understandably opposition parties are testing now), he also possibly failed to comply with his constitutional duties if he had deliberately misled, or outright lied to, Parliament (and, by implication, to us the voters).

The reason he looks ineffective is because he lacked the ability to prevent – in the best-case scenario – corruption and maladministration in his own backyard, literally. This was preventable in this instance because the procurement and other processes that were flouted pertained to his property, over which he should have and could have exercised effective oversight.

We can’t expect Zuma to be omnipresent but we can expect him to know what goes on at his own residence.

In this scenario, he’s also found ethically wanting. You don’t just have a moral duty to not steal from the public if you’re the president. You also have a positive ethical duty to look after the resources of the state so that especially the most vulnerable don’t suffer from the opportunity cost of corruption.

By failing to be vigilant about corruption in the state, this president demonstrates a loose commitment to his positive ethical duties as a public servant, and in particular as chief executive of SA Inc.

And this is the central confusion many ANC voters suffer: an inability to take non-legal standards of excellence seriously. Ethical leadership is a necessary condition for us to overcome our major, shared national goals.

The same goes for technical competency within the state. Unless top public servants and political principals have the capacity to execute well-thought-through policies, we won’t reach our potential.

The Nkandla report clearly shows that ethical and technical competency is in short supply within the government, including President Zuma at the top.

You don’t have to wait for leaders to be found guilty in a court of law before you worry about them being your leaders in the state.

In fact, you’d be stupid, as a member of the public, to start worrying only once guilty verdicts are delivered by courts. We have to continuously evaluate our leaders against ethical and technical standards of excellence.

And ANC members, like everyone else, should be disturbed by the implications of the report. It emanates from the evidence-based work of a credible constitutional authority, the public protector.

Last, it’s also crucial for many ANC voters to reflect on the horrible truth that the Nkandla report is not actually about Zuma. It is about the ANC government. Zuma is merely a central character in the Dystopia.

If you are kept honest in the party by your political peers, or by your cabinet and MPs in the state, then you will either not drop the ball (or not often anyway) or they’d make sure you got kicked out!

So it is most odd to me that some ANC members insist that they only despise the flaws of Zuma, or despise Zuma full-stop, but love the leadership in the ANC more generally.

Assuming you’re an ANC member who is unhappy with Zuma, ask yourself, “Why am I not pissed off with Trevor Manuel, Gwede Mantashe, Pravin Gordhan and others who do not speak out against the shortcomings of Zuma?”

Why is the collective leadership let off the hook and the state and the party’s problems reduced to Zuma? There is, I’m afraid, a deeper leadership crisis of which Zuma has become a symptom. But he isn’t the sum total of the incumbent government’s problems.

ANC members should not be kidding themselves. Our collective future is at stake.

* Eusebius McKaiser is the author of Could I Vote DA? A Voter’s Dilemma.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

The Star