Cape Town - African National Congress president Jacob Zuma has failed to inspire confidence during his first few months at the party's helm, says University of SA (Unisa) Rector Barney Pityana.
"We now enter a new era. It is a time shrouded in anxiety and uncertainty with the looming presidency of Jacob Zuma and a new assertive leadership of the ANC," he told the Law Society of SA's annual general meeting in Stellenbosch on Monday.
"To many of us, Jacob Zuma, popularly elected by the branch delegates at Polokwane in December 2007, remains a flawed character in his moral conduct; he has been indicted for serious crimes that involve corruption and dishonesty.
"So far he does not encourage confidence in his understanding of policy, appearing as he does in the short-term to be making policy pronouncements on the hoof depending on whom he wishes to appease at any one moment.
"We have seen the leader flip-flop on crucial matters of policy - the death penalty, silence when his supporters mount a savage and uninformed attack on the judges, ostensibly with his concurrence, the dance of back-step on the reform of the labour market, and so on," said Pityana.
Would discredit the constitution
"Anyone aspiring to become a head of state must understand the obligation that binds one to honour the spirit and the letter of the constitution; to order their personal conduct as if it is an open constitutional text, to internalise its precepts as binding on one's life."
That was true of judges, ministers of state, and others who held public office.
Failure to do would discredit the constitution and erode an essential seal binding the nation, holding it together and inspiring confidence.
Pityana said: "That is the reason South Africans should be very concerned when the ANC Youth League confronts the deputy president of the Constitutional Court about remarks he is reported to have made at a private function, and the sentiment about the integrity and independence of judges that is thrown up, the effect of which is clearly to intimidate the judiciary.
"That is the reason that, as a people, we should be worried, very worried, when the integrity of judges is being put under question without justification,".
"We should equally be concerned when sitting judges appear to be behaving in a manner that is calculated to undermine the honour due to and status of judges."
'Popularising criminal conduct'
The fact of the matter was that when leaders behaved in a manner that showed a disregard for the law, or who were indicted for serious crimes, or who marshalled supporters to demonstrate within the precincts of the courts, they were popularising criminal conduct.
And when political rhetoric was being used as a shield to avoid or to stigmatise scrutiny, they made criminal conduct and the defence of those under criminal investigation, a political project of the same virtue as fighting for one's rights.
That was the same as electing convicted criminals to high political office, by advocating criminal conduct as political and thus making it acceptable to subvert the law.
Or to celebrate crimes by a certain class of criminals and turn entry into custody into a moment to be proud of.
"Malcolm Gladwell , writing about the manner in which New York City turned around the scourge of crime in the streets of New York, warns against normalising criminal conduct, or mainstreaming deviance such that leaders by their conduct 'give permission' to others to behave likewise,"said Pityana.
When leaders did that, they numbed citizens to aversion to such conduct and made it a very attractive "cat-and-mouse" game as long as one did not get caught.
"If that argument holds then rape and violence against women would not be an aversion that it should become, but a matter of affording the best criminal lawyer and succeed in casting doubt on the integrity of the accuser."
Society 'has become numbed'
The popularisation of crime of certain types put paid to the statements about leniency on crime.
The problem was less that criminals were "lightly treated" by the criminal justice system, but that society had become numbed by crime to the extent that citizens had become paralysed and unwilling to intervene.
Police did not receive assistance in their investigations from citizens."Trains are set on fire by commuters, and no one will come forward to report the criminals," he said.