Sep 28, 2010

Gallivanting leaders

What’s wrong with this picture?

Situation A

South Africa’s civil service goes on strike crippling the nation’s hospitals, schools, and other areas of the public sector. Reasons: the government’s inability to meet their labour demands for improved pay, working conditions, and the like.

While this is happening, President Jacob Zuma leaves for China towing a delegation of 11 cabinet ministers and more than 350 business people. Reasons: a means to improving trade relations between the two nations. Before he leaves he slams the trade unions for what he calls excessive demands and jets off to Beijing.

Situation B

Doctors at all Zambia’s government hospitals go on strike. Reasons: the government’s inability to meet their labour demands for improved pay, working conditions, and the like.

At the same time, President Rupiah Banda is about to leave for Nigeria. He’s been invited to celebrate that country’s 50th anniversary of independent rule since the collapse of colonialism. He takes with him a delegation of cabinet ministers, senior government officials and 50 business people.

His delegate, the Minister of Health, states that the government is baffled as to why the doctors have gone on strike. He is sending a team to investigate. Say what?

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Zuma was widely criticised for not postponing his trip while the crisis was reaching a crescendo in South Africa; and he’s probably suffered some irreparable damage since his power based lay largely with the labour unions who now feel aggrieved by the ANC. The same criticism will be heaped on Banda, especially if he doesn’t excuse himself from this trip and the strike lasts longer than a few days.

When critical personnel such as doctors and nurses walk out because of unresolved labour disputes the whole country suffers. This may not mean much to a President and his cabinet ministers who exclusively use private health care abroad, but what is their job if not to provide services for the people?

What’s the point in securing trade relations with China or reinforcing diplomatic ties with other African countries when your country could easily be cut down at the knees when workers strike? If you have no stability in critical areas like healthcare and education just where do you think the country is headed? Certainly not towards sustainable development.

Mr Banda, do you need to hear about babies being delivered in parking lots because expectant mothers got turned away from hospitals as a result of staff shortages before you realise that your priorities lie at home? Oh wait, that didn’t happen the last time. How could we forget the witch hunt that ensued to prosecute the journalist who highlighted this very problem?!

Please don’t counter with the argument that your Minister of Health is more than capable at handling this issue. No, he’s not! He just stated he don’t understand why the strike is happening. Just where are these people recruited?

Perhaps someone needs to show me the job description for a southern Africa president that indicates that primary duties are “visiting other countries in pursuit of <insert politically correct term for time wasting endeavour>”.

Mr President, even if you’re not personally involved in the labour negotiations it is vitally important for you to be there, as you are the face of the country’s leadership. When you shirk these responsibilities, it shows that you do not care about Zambians and are out of touch with their plight; send your foreign minister to go and dance vimbuza with Goodluck Jonathan. 

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