FORMAL politics is a very serious enterprise.  It is a multifaceted beast. Hence its complexity.

Politics includes the ability or commitment to organise society in a manner that will enhance and prioritise the common good for all.

It implies putting together a democratic system of good governance — a constitution that spells out the rights of the citizenry and their obligations, the laws of the country.

Laws must regulate economic activity, education, state security and criminal justice with checks and balances to ensure that elected public representatives are accountable to the nation and to and most importantly to enhance the welfare of the most vulnerable, especially children, women, the disabled and the elderly.

In today’s world, geopolitics has been refined into a special science because the world has shrunk into a village, thanks to the internet. Whatever happens in any corner of the globe can be accessed within minutes. Thanks to the advanced modern information technology.

That said, politically South Africans are beginning to ask awkward questions that go beyond service delivery in its over simplistic form. Ordinary voters are not interested in dissecting political ideologies, manifestos or policies, however progressive.

They want to see faces that give them hope and confidence either in the leaders of the party/organisation they should support. When Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela risked his own popularity by appealing for calm after Chris Hani’s assassination in 1993 and ordered comrades to throw their weapons into the sea, millions of people did so because Madiba had said so. In other words, he was the public face/voice of the ANC.

As angry as many comrades were, they respected Mandela because they could trust and respect his integrity. They assumed that whatever he did was in the best interests of the majority of the people regardless of their colour, age or class.

There is yet another human factor in every political contestation. When Richard Nixon battled young John Fitzgerald Kennedy in a televised debate in 1960, the American public chose John Kennedy. In him they saw a leader they could trust to defend the “American Dream” and to provide sterling leadership. His body language exuded self-confidence.

As a leader you are in big trouble if people think, rightly or wrongly, that you are dishonest, weak-willed, visionless, corrupt and manipulable. On a lighter note, we must never forget that the theatrical aspect of political electioneering is a reality.

Thousands vote for a candidate not because he or she is a paragon of virtue but because he or she is able to present a message in a convincing and perhaps exciting manner. He or she can read the mood of his audience and is able to empathise with them.

Charismatic does not always translate into honesty. But it is a plus if you are a leader of integrity.

Take Fidel Castro of Cuba. Until his voluntary retirement, the Cuban people gladly listened to his marathon speeches. Without exception, the speeches carried a weighty message and political education for his people as well as political education. They saw a fiercely patriotic leader — honest, incorruptible, unselfish, simple lifestyle, trustworthy and a role model to young people.

Spicing up their leadership style with some element of the theatre has done wonders for some leaders.

A section of the audience at public addresses go there to be entertained and, of course, to get the assurance that all is well in the nation or that the leader has a solution to their problems.

Good speeches must never sacrifice substance though. Beware of false popular support. People will blow kisses, wave flags and sing songs of praise. If the same people do not trust you, they will grab whatever material benefits from you but then proceed to show you and your flashy car convoy the middle finger as soon as it convoy is safely out of sight.

Bishop Abel Muzorewa can give them a little political lesson. With the help of Rhodesia’s Ian Smith, he slaughtered many cows and, supplied Coca-Cola to voters. People took advantage of all that but went on to vote for liberation hero Robert Mugabe, although he had been demonised by the white Rhodesians (now Zimbabweans).

I don’t subscribe to the saying that “politics is a dirty game”. Politicians can be dirty, immoral, stupid, self-serving and short-sighted. But we cannot discredit a necessary service because of some rotten apples.

As in all professions, you find the good and the bad. In my experience, the biggest challenge among politicians is their inability to handle power.

Former US president Abraham Lincoln’s observation remains so true. He said: “If you want to test someone’s character give them power.”

Once people taste power at whatever level, many become power drunk. This can translate into arrogance, pompousness, ruthlessness and inability to listen to the very people who put them in power. They suddenly see themselves as little gods. Their vision becomes blurred.

The youth and aspirant leaders should be constantly reminded that leadership is a service that you render to the nation with humility and integrity.

Mkhatshwa is chairman of the Moral Regeneration Movement

As a leader you are in big trouble if people think, rightly or wrongly, that you are dishonest, weak-willed, visionless, corrupt and manipulable. On a lighter note, we must never forget that the theatrical aspect of political electioneering is a reality.


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