If I were a benevolent dictator, I would pass a decree ordering all parents to hug their children at least once a day. That way, a new generation might have a better chance to grow up kind and warm and with some understanding of the frailties and needs of human beings.
President Thabo Mbeki is obviously not a man who has a firm grasp on human frailty and on our needs and dreams. No wonder, because he was never hugged by his own father. The story is told that when he returned from exile and stepped off the plane, he did not rush to hug his own father whom he had not seen for many years, but dutifully greeted the queue of senior officials until he got to this father - and then shook his hand.
I was reminded of this when I read in the paper that President Mbeki had dismissed reports he has "rejected" the recommendations of the Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers chaired by Justice Dikgang Moseneke. The statement from the Presidency read:
For the record, the Presidency wishes to state that the president has, rather than reject the commission's recommendations, requested the commission to consider concerns raised by various institutions subsequent to the publication of its report," his office said in a statement. The Presidency appealed to all South Africans to familiarise themselves with the commission's processes as laid down in legislation.
This response is technically impeccable, but it so lacks in the basic humanity we hope to see in our leaders that it leaves me in despair. Here we are in the midst of a very serious and acrimonious public servants strike in which Moseneke’s proposals to hike the President and the Cabinet’s salaries with almost 50% is a highly controversial an emotional issue. Yet our President responds through his minions in the most dry and technical of ways.
Of course, technically the two issues have nothing to do with one another, but one cannot eat or hug “technically”. Yet, the President issues a statement in which he asks us to "familiarise" ourselves with the legislation so that we will also grasp the technical reasons for him not rejecting the proposal.
A very helpful hint, that, for a nurse or civil servant on strike. Just a pity such a nurse cannot afford ADSL or money for an Internet cafe, so will not be able to get access to the legislation. Does the President and his staff actually realise this? I sometimes wonder: on what planet does this man and his staff live?
What is needed from President Mbeki is to go on national television and make a statement about the strike to try and calm the waters. In such a statement he could express his sincere understanding of the plight of the workers who have to survive on a pittance, and could also express embarrassment about the fact that Moseneke recommended a 50% increase for him while the state is offering 7.25% to the workers.
Such a gesture might not placate all the workers but it will send a signal that Mbeki is in charge and that he cares. It might just help to change the tone of the strike.
But no, we do not hear a word from our dear leader because he is busy wining and dining the leader of the DRC. When he did speak out about the strike, he only berated those workers who intimidated others - a bit like a parent of a wayward child. Sometimes I wonder whether President Mbeki does not all see us as wayward children and do not feel disappointed or even betrayed by the people he has to lead. He sure acts that way.
No wonder Cosatu and the SACP supports the opponent who was paid more than R1 million by that convicted fraudster, Schabir Shaik – at least we know that Zuma can laugh and bleed and feel emotions.