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Sterile thinking inflicted Dr. Pityana


I read with disgust the article by Dr. Barney Pityana “Dear Mr Zuma, it`s time for you to go” in The Sunday Independent of 24 February 2013. There are four things that glaringly came out of Dr. Pityana`s outbursts.

Firstly, is that the uneasiness of Dr. Pityana with the current administration is due to anger and vindictiveness. His anger catapults him to a verge of being an emotional intellectual wreck.

Secondly, that he harbours insatiable hatred for President Jacob Zuma and the ANC. His ranting and raving that President Zuma “brought the country to a moral precipice” is an exact replay of the emotional outpour that characterised his address at the inaugural Convention of COPE in 2008 which was accompanied by ill-conceived political fanfare.

With the mooting of a new political party or platform by Dr. Mamphela Ramphele in a choreographed style Dr. Pityana unleashes a pre-emptive attack on the ANC and the President. This vitriol did not come as a surprise as there are individuals like Dr. Pityana who would wear a veil of being intellectuals, to disguise being partisan, and to pave a political way for anything against the ANC. This stratagem never worked before and is very unlikely to bear any fruit this time around as South Africans are not stupid.

Thirdly, in a mischievous way he is tempted in his presentation of issues to exclusively appropriate to him as an individual the right to choose or determine who the South African leader should be. This is disdainful to the constitution of the country. Contrary to the fact that he has long proclaimed himself as forthright defender of the constitution. 

The preposterous call for the President to resign is also an insult to the citizens of this country. We have a liberal democratic framework in South Africa and whoever governs does that at the favour of the choice of the citizens and not at the favour of an individual consumed by blinding hatred.

Fourthly, that he is overtly disingenuous in how he rehashes old stories to construct a theses for the resignation of the President. There is nothing new or fresh in what he is raising. Everything he raised was adequately responded to and with some of those issues (Marikana, security upgrades at the private residence of the President) there are processes underway to respond to lingering questions. 

Dr. Pityana in his erstwhile article does not bother to reflect on these processes. He deliberately pretends that these are issues left hanging and unattended to due to poor leadership. For a person of his calibre, this is the worst form of duplicity, speaking of morality whilst at the same time deliberately misleading the readers of your newspaper.

We are in a global economic downturn that has adversely affected domestic economies of both developing and developed countries by eroding their fiscal base. The Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan, in his 2013 Budget Speech, alluded to the fact that in 2013/14 fiscal year R1.15 trillion will be funded from revenue collection of R985.7 billion and borrowing of R163 billion.

Globally, it is hard times; thanks to the resilient nature of the South African economy and to the leadership of government at the helm thereof is President Jacob Zuma. To squarely impute blame for the country`s socio-economic challenges on the current administration of President Zuma as leaderless is cynical. Dr. Pityana`s silence on the apartheid inherited economic structural challenges illuminates an uncomfortable degree of ignorance.

This leads me to the vexed question of what is the expected role of intellectuals in society and its political life. The second question is whether Dr. Pityana lived to that expectation. Intellectuals derive respect in society not by the number of college degrees they have acquired, but by the contribution they make in producing knowledge that contributes to reconstruction and development in society.

To achieve this, would demand from intellectuals to remove themselves from immediate concerns and imagine a broader vision of progress by analysing events, processes and implications of each phase of the evolution of the country from apartheid to democratic society. For this analysis to derive credibility it should be non-partisan and not driven by personal prejudice.

It is also expected that intellectuals should guide the democratic system by questioning the dominant frames of knowledge, which are exploitation, patriarchy, neo-colonialism, conspicuous consumption, corruption, etc. In so doing they speak truth to power. ANC has always welcomed this intervention by intellectuals and appreciates the fact that intellectual life is robust. The ANC should be the first to create a conducive environment for intellectuals to analyse and reveal emerging trends and highlight future destination.

However, intellectuals like Dr. Pityana who are deeply immersed in a political agenda, do not deserve an inch of this pristine intellectual freedom to question and probe developments in our country, as they are dishonest.

Dr. Pityana`s aim is not to use the strength of his training to enrich the democratic process, but rather in an awkwardly reductionist way he uses his training to cast aspersions on individuals.

In so doing he disingenuously ignores the political or economic environment and systems that define the developmental trajectory of the country and what the role of individuals (whether president or a common citizen) are in that space. This is called character assassination and is bereft of the tiniest grain of intellectual discourse.

Any self-respecting intellectual would shy away from expressing strong views on a subject matter he/she has little knowledge of. The knowledge and understanding of Dr. Pityana of collective leadership is archaic to say the least. Collective leadership is a principle of democratic decision-making and not “mob rule”. Collective leadership is the key tenet of unity and cohesion in the organisation.

The organisation provides a democratic space for open and robust engagements on any matter, it is fairly expected that a decision must be arrived at after these engagements. When a decision is taken after due consideration of all different views it binds on everyone who was part of the process of arriving at that decision. Without this principle it would be nightmare to manage, let alone to sustain, a big organisation like the ANC.

This is just a simple principle that also finds expression in corporate bodies.

Sliding to this level of political morass by Dr. Pityana is such a debilitating disappointment to some of us; as we aspire to play a role in the intellectual life of our country and the world one day. This reminds me of what Chinua Achebe in his classic novel Things Fall Apart had to say about the tragedy of Okonkwo, an important man in the Obi tribe.

He was called the “flaming fire” as he was very strong as young man and became famous throughout the village for his wrestling skills and fearlessness. As age took a toll on him he always told himself that nothing has changed. He believed that at old age he still has the same physical strength, prowess and agility of a young man. Achebe succinctly describes the predicament of Okonkwo as “living fire begets cold, impotent ash”. 

The article by Dr. Pityana is just one contemporary case of impotent intellectual ash we`ve been fed recently by used to be “flaming fire” and razor sharp intellectuals.

Zamani Saul is the ANC Provincial Secretary Northern Cape

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