When Zuma first swore the oath

Graham McIntosh says President needs to ponder on his duty of respect (ukuhlonipha) to all South Africans

When Jacob Zuma and I together took the oath to uphold the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa

In May 1999, Jacob Zuma and I stood in the National Assembly before the Chief Justice of the Republic of South Africa and in the presence of the other newly elected members of the National Assembly. There were eight of us in our group of new MPs.

When asked by the Chief Justice (Corbett at the time) we all lifted our right hands to affirm and swear loyalty to the Republic of South Africa and its Constitution. It was the opening of a new Session of Parliament after the National Elections in April 1999. 

As we were signing the necessary individual document with the oath on it and which the Clerk put before us, I joked with Zuma that today we were both “imisila” (tails or tadpoles). It was a reference to the nickname given to new boys who had arrived at school and were still to go through the rite of passage (ukutrita or initiation). We chuckled about it because both of us were most definitely not imisila but had come from positions of leadership and service in our Province of KZN and, indeed, had met there previously.

He had been an MEC in the Provincial Government and was now “deployed” by the ANC to the National Assembly and I, from being the recently retired President of the KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union (Kwanalu) was there because Tony Leon had asked me to come onto the DP list. Here, however, we were “new Boys” together.

Later, Zuma was to again swear that oath in the National Assembly and more importantly, after the National Assembly had elected him in Cape Town, at his inauguration in Pretoria as President of the Republic.

An enrichment of my South Africanism is being able to speak some isiZulu and to have gained some insight into the rich culture of the Zulu people in particular – ubuZulu bethu.  I have been pondering Zuma’s conduct after the recent Constitutional Court judgement in relation to the Public Protector’s report and what his own response, as President, should be and not only his Constitutional duty but what Zulu custom, which Zuma deeply cherishes, would expect of a man (indoda nesithunzi) with a respected reputation. In the 19th century he would have worn a head ring (isicoco) as an induna invariably did and as they were depicted in historical records when they accompanied the Zulu King (isilo).

Possibly the most important virtue expected of relationships within Zulu culture is ukuhlonipha (respect). It has many and rich layers of meaning including obeisance (ukuguqa), decency, courtesy, ubuntu, good manners, consideration for others and respect for the law (Umthetho) elders, parents and for authority.

We are now a constitutional democracy and sovereignty ultimately lies now with our Concourt, not with Parliament nor with the President and his Executive. It has made a hugely important constitutional decision around the actions of the President and the Speaker in relation to the Public Protector. Many South Africans have asked Zuma resign as President. 

In addition, however, Zuma needs to ponder what his response should be in terms of his duty of respect (ukuhlonipha) to all South Africans. It is self-evident that if he really cares and takes seriously his own integrity and respect for his oath of office, Msholozi should resign. I believe that the Zulu King, privately, should give him that advice, if he has not already done so, and so should uShenge (Mangosuthu Buthelezi).

Graham McIntosh (72) is a retired Member of Parliament and lives on the outskirts of Howick, KZN.