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Duma-Buthelezi spat raises questions about leadership

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Siboniso Duma, MEC Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs has behaved in a manner unbecoming of his office, the writer says, after an altercation with the Zulu traditional prime minister at the 110th commemoration of the passing of Zulu King Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo at KwaCeza has led to the violence in which 16 people have been injured. – Picture: Nqobile Mbonambi / Independent Newspapers / Taken November 10, 2023

By Bheki Mngomezulu

In principle, anyone can aspire to be a leader. Similarly, people can propel any individual to become a leader for one reason or the other. However, not everyone has what it takes to be a true leader.

It is not always easy to see real leadership when everything is going smoothly. Real leaders stand out during tough times when they have to deal with or contain untenable situations.

This was the case, for example, with Nelson Mandela following the assassination of Chris Hani on April 10, 1993. He prevented the country from descending into a civil war by appealing to the nation to calm down.

The same happened when leaders like Dr Meshack Radebe and his IFP counterpart, Sipho Mlaba, worked together to end political killings in KwaZulu-Natal, especially around the Mpumalanga area or Hammarsdale.

All these leaders looked at the bigger picture; they transcended political parochialism. It is for this reason that they are revered by many people for their leadership prowess, even those beyond Africa.

From these examples of leaders, one is forced to juxtapose those mentioned above against some current leaders.

The recent incident, which happened during the 110th commemoration of the passing of Zulu King Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo at KwaCeza was unnecessary and a shame!

Zulu traditional Prime Minister Thulasizwe Buthelezi has failed to show leadership, the writer says, following a public altercation with ANC provincial chairperson and KwaZulu-Natal Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs MEC Siboniso Duma. – Picture: Facebook

Both Zulu traditional Prime Minister Thulasizwe Buthelezi and KwaZulu-Natal Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs MEC Siboniso Duma failed to show leadership, albeit to a different magnitude.

Buthelezi forgot that on the day of the event he was wearing the cap of the Zulu traditional prime minister. This meant that he had to stay clear of politics and confine himself to the event and its protocol. The moment he derailed and started talking about the ANC leadership in KwaZulu-Natal, which had behaved in an unbecoming manner, he ignited a fire which resulted in the shameful altercation witnessed by many.

Sadly, 16 people were injured in violence after the event and had to be hospitalised. While it is true that they sustained injuries outside of the event, the rise of emotions was triggered by Duma’s public humiliation of Buthelezi at the event.

If Buthelezi was wrong, the action by Duma was considered even worse. Duma’s taking the microphone even before Buthelezi could finish his sentence did not show respect to Buthelezi as a person, a leader in the province and a fellow politician, a pastor and an official at the event.

Above all, Buthelezi was not speaking in his capacity as the mayor of Zululand but as the Zulu traditional prime minister.

By implication, disrespecting him was tantamount to disrespecting King Misuzulu kaZwelithini and his regiments – let alone the dignitaries and the public who were present.

Another concerning issue was when Duma instructed the king’s praise singer to introduce King Misuzulu kaZwelithini. As if this was not enough, Duma addressed the king directly reminding him that the event was the king’s and that he had to take charge.

Intriguingly, Duma later stated that since the event was organised by the government, the latter has more power than anyone else. Here, the protocol was breached. Different issues were conflated. If the event belonged to the King Misuzulu kaZwelithini as Duma claimed, how did the government have more power than the king? Was this power derived from financial resources? These are critical questions that Duma as a leader should have taken into consideration.

While the recent public spat is regrettable, what is concerning is the way the provincial executive committee (PEC) of the ANC has handled this matter. Here, too, concerns about leadership have surfaced.

Addressing the media, Bheki Mtolo, the ANC provincial secretary, made very concerning statements.

One was that the PEC supported Duma’s actions – arguing that he saved the event from degenerating into a political rally. In principle, he was right. This goal was achieved. But at what cost?

Two wrongs don’t make a right. If Buthelezi was abusing his position, Duma should have allowed him to speak to the end and let the world judge him. In that case, Duma (and the ANC) would have been saved because only one person would have been in the wrong. As things stand, it is Duma who has received bad publicity.

Another concerning statement by Mtolo was that the PEC does not recognise the position of the Zulu traditional prime minister. He went further to cite pieces of legislation to buttress the PEC’s assertion.

A few questions arise. The first one is whether the ANC PEC does not recognise the position in the Zulu leadership as a matter of principle or because of the current incumbent.

Second, since when has the PEC had this position? The late Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi served three kings in this capacity and at no point did the ANC question the position. Why now?

Third, does the PEC question King Misuzulu’s decision to appoint Thulasizwe Buthelezi to a position it does not recognise? If this is the case, why did the PEC not raise this concern earlier but waited until there was this altercation to make its pronouncement?

Another concern is that, on the one hand, the PEC is prepared to apologise to the king and President Cyril Ramaphosa, while on the other hand, it does not recognise the position which is at the centre of the debate.

Lastly, it would be advisable for KZN Premier Nomusa Dube-Ncube not to get involved in the public debate about this incident but to communicate with the king and the president privately.

Prof Bheki Mngomezulu is Director of the Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy (CANRAD) at the Nelson Mandela University