The curse of the Grandfathers

The curse of the Grandfathers

On April 3, 2017, South Africa’s foreign currency rating was downgraded to sub investment grade or “junk” status by S&P Global Ratings.
A “junk” status means that South Africa is now perceived as facing major ongoing uncertainties and exposure to adverse business, financial, or economic conditions which could lead to their inadequate capacity to meet the country’s financial commitments.

Before the downgrade, South Africa was rated BBB-. This means that they were considered to have adequate capacity to meet financial commitments even though adverse economic conditions or changing circumstances were seen to more likely lead to a weakened capacity to meet these financial commitments.
S&P said the executive changes made by President Jacob Zuma had put at risk the country’s fiscal and growth outcomes.

These changes had increased the risk of policy shifts that could be negative for economic growth and fiscal discipline.
The ratings agency also put a negative outlook on the new BB+ rating. This suggests a further downgrade is likely if it sees deterioration in SA’s economic or fiscal performance.
When President Zuma reshuffled his cabinet, he was exercising a constitutionally enshrined right. The law gives him the prerogative to change members of cabinet as and when he sees fit.
He is not required to consult, explain or to justify his decision.
The President broke no law and did not act unconstitutionally. So why this harsh reaction by S&P?

The answer is that the legality or constitutionality of a decision does not make it the “right” decision.
That the President in deciding to make changes to his cabinet was well within his rights, is indisputable.
What is questionable however, is whether his decision was in the best interests of South Africa.

Judging by the events unleashed by the President’s decision e.g. an official request by the opposition Democratic Alliance for a vote of no confidence in the President to be discussed in Parliament, plans for a national shutdown on Friday 7 April, growing calls from both within and outside the ANC for the President to step down, and top members of the government and the ANC openly criticising the President, this cannot be said to have been the right decision.

So how could the President Zuma have gotten this so wrong? How could he have missed all the signs?
The way I see it, President Zuma made the decision while wearing his “normal man” persona or his private persona and not while wearing his Head of State persona. I will explain what I mean.
The President is in the first instance a man, a father, a husband, a brother, an uncle, a grandfather, a friend to someone i.e. has a private persona.
He is these things first before he is the President i.e. his public persona.

This means the President has the responsibility to wear both the private persona and the public persona depending on the situation.
These are distinct and mutually exclusive. When in his private space, he must put on the private persona and vice versa.
Each persona, is underpinned by different sets of beliefs, attitudes, behaviours and constraints.

This means the way he approaches issues and makes decisions wearing a private persona is different from when attending to presidential issues which require his public persona.
Decision-making in private persona mode is simpler and less inflexible whereas decision-making requirements in public persona mode tend to be more complex and more constrained.
Good leaders at the helm of their countries can shift between these two personas seamlessly. This is what makes them good. When in the public domain, they recognise this and adopt the appropriate attitudes, beliefs, behaviours and thinking processes. They shed their private persona.

I have come to realise however that this ability diminishes as leaders age. They lose the agility to switch between these two personas preferring instead to default to the more natural and less complicated private persona.

In politics, it is not true that the older one gets, the wiser they become. The contrary seems to be true.
When a leader makes a decision in the public space wearing their private persona (which is what “old” leaders have a propensity to do), the decision is very often reckless i.e. not in the best interest of the country.

I am convinced that a much younger President Zuma given the same set of facts, would not have made the same decision because he would have taken the decision as Head of State and not as Grandfather i.e. wore his public persona and not his private persona.

If he had been wearing his public persona, he would not have stubbornly stuck with the “It is my Presidential prerogative” line given all the warnings about the repercussions his decision would have.

His judgement was clearly clouded by his failure to make this shift. President Zuma’s inexplicable (many have even said reckless) decision strengthens my conviction that Grandfathers or Grandmothers should never be voted in as leaders of countries — they should be encouraged to rather play and tell stories to grandkids at home.

As leaders of government, they are too much of a liability, but at home, they are an invaluable source of knowledge and history.
Just look at the other Grandfathers running countries in the region. They are big liabilities to their respective countries — routinely making reckless decisions with dire consequences beyond their own borders.

You will notice too that notwithstanding how much damage they continue to cause, all of them refuse to go home when told it is time to go.
This is because they are no longer capable of dealing with national issues wearing their public persona — only the private persona now fits.
This is a good thing for grandchildren at home but a curse for a country’s citizens. Grandfathers are good playing with grandchildren but reckless running a country.

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