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The Jewish Report Editorial

It’s all about exemplary leadership




It remains to be seen how our new president deals with the South Africa-Israel issues, but even then, I believe he tends more towards creating peace between Israelis and Palestinians than cutting off Israel from South Africa. He is that kind of man.

Okay, so some of you may be suggesting I take off my rose-tinted glasses and recognise that this is no easy road ahead and that President Ramaphosa is far from perfect.

I get it, but after what felt like an interminable time under the corrupt leadership of Jacob Zuma, allow me this feeling of euphoria, at least for a while.

I have heard the doomsayers about Ramaphosa who’ve criticised him for having kept quiet about Zuma (whom he clearly knew was corrupt) while in his Cabinet, and having allowed him to keep on destroying this country. This is true, but as deputy president, would it have been better for him to create a ruckus and have to leave his position? I don’t think so, but feel free to disagree.

My own interactions with Ramaphosa have only made me respect him.  

In the late 1990s, when I was a reporter on the Saturday Star, I heard he had become a volunteer policeman. I contacted him and asked to go out on the beat with him for a story. He assured me that I could, but said the timing wasn’t right for him.

A month or so later, I was at a dinner party one weekend when my cellphone rang. The caller said: “Hi Peta, this is Cyril. I am sorry I am phoning so late.” My head was not in work mode and I had no idea who I was speaking to, so I asked: “Cyril who?” He didn’t miss a beat and went on to apologise to me, saying The Sunday Times had found out he was a volunteer cop and would be running a piece that mentioned it. He assured me he had not spoken to that newspaper about it, but he just wanted to let me know before I saw it.

Sure enough, there was a mention in the newspaper the next day and he was true to his word.

That, coupled with a few other experiences I’ve had, showed me his true character. I have been a journalist for many years and, trust me, that is not the way most politicians treat the average journalist. 

The question of whether he should have been brave enough to stick his neck out earlier brings me to another leader. Sticking your neck out as a leader is a tough choice because your flock are not obligated to follow you. 

I have written in previous columns of how most people choose the path of least resistance because it is easier and they don’t have to be brave and take the criticism when it inevitably comes.

Our own Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein showed courage in publicly standing up against Zuma. While many of us applauded him, he received a great deal of criticism. Other leaders within and outside of the community said he was endangering our future by standing up as our spiritual leader against the country’s president and the government. People said it would make the government turn against the Jews.

The ruling party stopped inviting him to ANC or government events, when he had always been invited before. 

In his office, he has photographs with former president Thabo Mbeki at his inauguration as chief rabbi. He also has a photograph of former president Nelson Mandela shortly before he became chief rabbi. He even had a photograph of Zuma, which has long since been taken down. I tell you this only to show you that he has never opposed the government before and had a healthy respect for the country’s leadership.

But when he witnessed yet another blatant act of corruption, he didn’t wait for other religious or faith leaders, or our own communal leaders, to stand up and say “no”. He stood up on a platform and told the world that he opposes the Zuma government. He called on Zuma to step down.

He didn’t just write articles. He didn’t just voice his opinions among the interfaith leaders. He didn’t just say it to our community. He, along with other activist leaders, led a mass public march against Zuma and spoke a few times in front of tens of thousands of South Africans, telling them Zuma must go.

He had no other leader to lean on, but he did it anyway. And it can’t have been easy when those invitations stopped coming. It can’t have been easy to take people telling him he was going to harm us by doing this.

But he didn’t back down.

Now we know that finally, the ANC leadership heard the nation’s cries that we have had enough of Zuma. They witnessed the protests. They heard the loud voices that encouraged the rest. They eventually accepted that the country wanted a corrupt-free leader and a government that would rule out the treachery of state capture. Did they hear our chief rabbi?

I don’t know, but his was one of those loud voices and I salute him for being brave by standing up and demanding a value-based, moral leader to run this country. Here’s hoping he, and all of us South Africans, get just that.

Shabbat Shalom!




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