Q&A with President Zuma as Conducted by Ellis Mnyandu and Adriaan Groenewald of the BR Leadership Platform

Article excerpt

It must be very lonely in this leadership position, having to absorb continual criticism or people always treating you with such huge respect. Are you lonely?

Not at all. Not with me. I am not at all very lonely. I am with people all the time. I feel absolutely wonderful! And at times I actually appreciate when people are critical, because it means they are not just sitting, ready to swallow anything; they are thinking; they are critical.

I may not agree with them, but they are doing something to think about what needs to be done, and people will never be the same. They will certainly see things differently. Where- ever I am, I am at home. If and when I am sitting with my critics I am at home.

What two or three additional attributes would the CEO of a country need as opposed to being the CEO of a business?

Well, I don't know about business, because I have not run business. I think if you are running a country you need to accept that it is composed of citizens who think differently and are not the same.

You have got to accept that some people are going to disagree with you, very strongly and very extremely. At times they may be right.

You must therefore be ready to accept that situation and deal with it, from a humble point of view. You must always humble yourself, no matter how harsh people can be, because that honour to be a president is not going to be experienced by many people. It is the highest honour that you can get on this Earth.

I think one should appreciate that and therefore be ready to humble yourself to the people who make you the president, so that they can be in a position to listen to you, even if they disagree with you. I think in my view people should know they can tell you what they think, whether you like it or not. They know that they are accepted. They know you are a person that makes mistakes and if you make mistakes you apologise. You should not say because I am the president I don't care what happens. I think people want to see a real person, rather than an artificial person.

What do you consider to have best prepared you to fulfil such a task?

Firstly I think it is basically my background, how I grew up. I come from a large family. I lost my father when I was very young. I don't even know him properly. I just know the shadow of him.

I therefore grew up in a kind of a collective handling by elderly people. Also because my mother had to go and be a domestic worker and could not stay with me all the time, I was handled by different mothers. All this and more made me appreciate Ubuntu, a culture of respect, which I was taught very strongly.

Up to today you would never hear me losing respect, even when there is political debate, I don't. And I believe even when you disagree with a person you still have to give that person respect, whether old or young people. I think this, to me, was a critical element that moulded me into what I am.

The second element has been my experience as a worker and trade unionist, but also the politics from the ANC, which made me grow, even to a point of understanding the nature of our own oppression, not just in a superficial fashion. …