Who speaks for you?

2010-05-07 10:30
Marianne Thamm

Think of a leader, any leader, internationally or locally who stands out from the noise and political debris caroming around.

Think of someone who is the embodiment of what we all seek in a leader, someone with vision, integrity, compassion, resolve and who holds the interest of fellow human beings at heart.

Not easy now that Nelson Mandela is in retirement and no longer engages with issues that plague the contemporary world.  And all that’s left of Mother Theresa are her sandals and her blue and white cotton sari in some museum showcase. Of course her order, the Missionaries of Charity, still operates around the globe.

The closest I can come to thinking of an international figure who represents the qualities many of us agree make a good leader is US president Barack Obama. Of course the growing and gathering Tea Party movement in opposition to the Obama admistration’s changes to health care in that country, among other things, would disagree.

Years ago, the conservative Italian political journalist Oriana Fallaci, published a collection of interviews with 14 20th century world leaders including Yasir Arafat, Indira Gandhi, Willy Brandt and Henry Kissinger.

In the preface to her 1977 book, Interview with History, she writes about meeting these powerful people.

“When I was finally in their presence, I had to exert myself to keep them there longer than an hour or half hour. Once there, however, it became a game to reach the truth and discover that not even a selective criterion justified their power. Those who determine our destiny are not really better than ourselves, they are neither more intelligent nor stronger nor more enlightened than ourselves. If anything, they are more enterprising, more ambitious.”

Nothing’s changed really.

We still expect leaders to be smarter or better than us to hold our interests at heart and to act on our behalf.
But we’re less gullible.

Or are we?

Of course there are countless people on the outside of mainstream politics who struggle for justice and who still inspire us.
There’s Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, there are activists like South Africa’s Zackie Achmat and religious leaders with moral authority like Bishop Desmond Tutu.

There are environmental organisations, organisations that mobilise against human trafficking, against blood diamonds, against despotic regimes across the globe that speak for or on behalf of billions of people who share their concerns.

But what all the abovementioned individuals or organisations have in common is that they work outside of formal politics and mobilize against power and government.

It seems once you step into the viper’s den you can no longer represent those who elected you to that position but become beholden to potent systemic and irresistible forces that swirl about the powerful and those in power.

If you listen carefully to the mealy-mouthed excuses, explanations and speeches on a variety of issues and that float from the mouths of those who would claim to represent and lead us, it is sometimes difficult to find a point of connection either emotionally or intellectually.

And so it is that the language of a political clique can so easily become the language of the people.

But luckily there is a clear and obvious disjuncture between what leaders say and their actions and it is in this gap that we begin to see more clearly.
Modern society is so fractured and compartmentalized that we can find other spaces, places and people who represent what we feel and think.
For example, the country’s fine artists, cartoonists, theatre and filmmakers, writers and musicians are articulating much of what we feel.

It is wonderful to listen to the number of music mixes made of Julius Malema’s incomprehensible outburst during a press conference in Luthuli house shortly after his visit to Zimbabwe. The language he chose; “white tendency”, “bloody agent”, and “bastard” is so clearly Zanu-PF inspired.

If you need cheering up listen to this wonderful Revolutionary House mix of Bloody Agent

So who, if anyone, speaks for you?

Is it the ANCYL’s Julius Malema, is it Helen Zille, or maybe National Secretary of the Young Communist League, Buti Manamela? Is it Cosatu’s Zwelenzima Vavi or President Jacob Zuma?


  • MD - 2010-04-30 07:23

    Although I am not at all religious, the compassion and passion of Arch Desmond Tutu does well for me.

  • OllieMor - 2010-04-30 07:40

    I represent me. I am the one who takes responsibility for my actions, for my future and for my choices. I do not rely on the government to look after my family, as my wife and I are the ones who chose to bring our child into this world. I do not rely on Eugene Terreblanche to be my voice, as I do not agree with his political point of view (I am afrikaans). I do not rely on Steve to represent me at rallies hosted by ignorant, bigoted and racist groups. I do not sit back and wait for a god to make my life wonderful. It's only me.

  • BAL - 2010-04-30 08:19


  • Carolyn - 2010-04-30 08:30

    You are the best jounalist writing in South Africa today and you articulate many of my own thoughts. As far as government goes I think the world is long overdue for a revolution, do we really need a government at all? Could we not get by more than adequately with a good police and judicial service and a totally free market economy. Political leaders no matter what their rhetoric be it Obama or Malema end up protecting the interest of a select few...get rid of them all forever. So to answer your question there is not one political leader on the planet today who speaks for me.

  • Tania - 2010-04-30 10:46

    It is such a pleasure to read what you write, please don't ever stop!
    I gave up on politicians when I dated one, so now I believe in my family and the future of my children. Someone has to :-)

  • @MD - 2010-04-30 11:15

    Huh! Many years ago, a certain Trevor Tutu bought a car on HP. His father (the arch) signed surety. Trevor never even TRIED to pay for his car - and we went to repossess. The arch tried to pull all kinds of rank, phoned everybody and anybody in the organisation to try to get us to 'write-off' the debt, and when THAT failed, and we pointed out he'd signed surety, had been fully aware of the situation, and was actually liable for the shortfall, he fell back on (this is a literal quote): "But I'm just a poor man of the cloth. You can't expect ME to find that kind of money". Scumbag, is what he is.

  • Thandi - 2010-04-30 12:14

    I'm with OllieMor on this. Though I'm not Afrikaans, I take offense when people like Julius Malema and Jacob Zuma claim to speak for me. I don't like politicians (including Obama) and I don't like Desmond Tutu.

  • Sarah - 2010-04-30 13:50

    Yep - OllieMor summed it up. I have had to rely on my own moral compass to make me the person I am. We can simply not rely on the current crop of leaders for moral or ethical guidance. Stand up and take responsiblilty for our own actions indeed!

  • Malema - 2010-04-30 13:58

    I speak for all of you - whether you like it or not!

  • Tya - 2010-04-30 14:10

    This will probably sound cliche but I think Oprah has so far proven that anyone can be loved and listened to by any race if you conduct yourself well. In terms of bringing white & blac together I would go with her. Personally I there's only one Tya and I can't think of anyone I would trust with representing the person I am.

  • DustingBunnies - 2010-04-30 15:18

    Hugh Hefner is my superhero role model!!!

  • pRESHEN GOVENDER - 2010-04-30 16:10

    Jenna Jameson speak for me.I love to read her lips.

  • Stephen S - 2010-04-30 17:43

    First of all, let me say who does NOT speak for me. Barack Obama. He talked about hope and change and transparency, and instead what he has done is surround himself with corrupt people, has been non-transparent and secretive, has bribed and threatened people, and just has been incredibly arrogant. He's been one of the most divisive Presidents, especially racially, and his ratings reflect that. Michael W. Smith, the Christian contemporary music artist, is a role model to me.

  • dee - 2010-05-01 19:59

    Helen Zille does it for me, yet her deeds are not reflected anywhere.Strange that journalist don't report on all the good deeds done for the poor. The only time we get to read exactly what her point of view is , is to read politicsweb. The truth behind the toilet saga and that 5% reneged on their decision to wall toilets so each of them could have a toilet, now the muncipality will have to build one toilet per five shacks as set out by national gov. The steps taken during school holidays for matric pupils in the townships. the money meant for womens day celebrations given to four promising girls from disadvantaged backgrounds to assure them of a good education.Spending every cent as wisely as possible.Begging gov for three years for signature which she needs from them to return district 6 to their rightful owners. Begging gov for transnet land for RDP Houses. The efficient professional ARV clinics which allow recipients the luxury to pop in before or after work without hampering their work commitments. You should see here in Gauteng people queue from 4am without being attended to by 5pm and often without their drugs. Truly a champion against drug lords without support from National Police. Read Helen Zille Wiki and go to Politicsweb and search Helen Zille's defence of her govt in the top right hand box. You be the judge

  • chloe - 2010-05-02 16:54

    I am so happy that I don't have to have anyone speak for me. Jesus went into the wilderness and in the last temptation, the devil said he'd give him all of "this" if Jesus would worship him. He pointed to the kings and queens and political systems of the world. So if it aint was his to give, he wouldn't have offered it. So for me to stand in a long line to vote for someone I only know from whatever mumbo jumbo they talk about makes no sense whatsoever. You never know whether they beat their wives or steal or swing or whatever. Actually Gordon Brown this past week was a case in point. 2-way talk. He probably is exactly what all other politicians are, so why do people actually vote at all? But nothing we mention here presses the right buttons. The world system will get stronger and more evil in all of its ways. The earth however is another thing. The earth does not imply the system upon it. Cheers everyone.

  • senna - 2010-05-03 11:24

    I speak on behalf of myself. No one will speak for me because all leaders have mistakes. We should have much more confidence in our own abilities.

  • Orlando Anderson (where is Tupac?) - 2010-05-04 14:23


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