As the 2014 elections are approaching, the Democratic Alliance (DA) party leader Helen Zille has challenged the president of South Africa Jacob Zuma to a public debate.
Helen Zille sent a letter to Zuma challenging him to a nationally televised presidential debate on the state of the country and the economy. Zille emphasized the need to debate on jobs and said that the unemployment had grown from thirty percent to thirty-four percent under the governance of Zuma since 2009. Zilla pointed out that there was a sharp contrast in the statements issued by Zuma on his administration’s record of job creation and economic control.
Zille said in her letter that a debate to openly discuss these issues, and answer questions from the public directly, is an opportunity to strengthen democracy and public discourse. Zille wrote about the real-time, live audience debate and the cross-examination of how both the DA and ANC party would create the right conditions for economic growth and job creation. She mentioned that live televised debates were widespread across Africa.
Mac Maharaj, Zuma’s spokesperson, did not indicate whether Zuma was aware of the invitation to a live debate and would not comment on this. Last year in August, Helen Zille sent a request for Jacob Zuma to engage in a public debate on the state of South Africa’s economy and he turned down the request.
Conflicting views from the public regarding a debate between Zuma and Zille have raised questions on whether a televised debate would strengthen the votes for either party. In democracy, debates are often part of the openness of the discussion with the promptness to sway undecided voters. In South Africa, there are many parties contesting the election, and if this debate is televised, there will be the possibility of other parties calling for a debate in order to gain votes in the election.
Several public comments have referred to Zuma as not being capable of delivering a public debate on the grounds of his incompetence. Zille, according to public comments, remains a far more intelligent contender and a debate could highlight the alleged ignorance of Zuma.
There is speculation that Zuma will once again decline the offer of a public debate with Zille. Critics claim he would be afraid of addressing the real pressing issues of South Africa, even saying that Zuma would not have the intellect to answer questions directly. His autonomy is being challenged, with opposition saying he is governed by the ANC mandate. The recognition of open and direct questions would not benefit Zuma, as he historically governs with prepared speeches from his advisors.
The public have indicated an interest in a debate between Zuma and Zille, and want the issue of gender disparities discussed, and the rolling poverty levels in South Africa openly debated. A debate between the president and Helen Zilla, according to comments, will create openness of respect and allow the public to raise pressing issues they want answers to.
The public is calling on the other parties, such as the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema, to partake in a debate with Zuma. It is their indication that he will at least be able to answer direct questions from the public. People want the land issues, and redistribution plans to be part of a debate.
There is some growing public sentiment that a debate would be an excellent start of real democracy, but there is a concern that the large number of political parties contesting the 2014 elections in South Africa would cause a conflict of interest, even though historically, dictators and tribalists do not engage in public debates. The debate would recognize the ability of the candidates and how they address different issues that can inform the public of their strengths, weaknesses and intentions.
Followers of the ANC and Zuma have commented that he is too busy to indulge in a debate and does not have time for attention seekers. Zuma, they claim, must be respected with dignity, and it is their assessment that the DA only want to bring apartheid back to South Africa by using black people. Scathing remarks toward the DA and their political ambitions were mentioned, along with accusations that the party failed the people of the country. Zuma, on the other hand was hailed as a hero and a man with a way to take the poverty of South Africans away and bring about a bright future for the people of South Africa.
The public are anxiously waiting for President Zuma to respond to the request of a public debate and have indicated various reasons why they believe that he will once again turn down this challenge.
By Laura Oneale