MOUNTING disapproval of his leadership forced President Jacob Zuma to defend himself yesterday, saying he could no longer sit back and allow his critics to exaggerate the weaknesses of his government.
Zuma, who has been under siege over his style of leadership of the ANC and the government, deviated from a prepared speech to lash out at those who, he said, continued to say that the government had not done enough to improve service delivery after 18 years of democracy.
Opening the SA Local Government Association's special national conference in Midrand, Zuma said critics should, when denouncing his administration, balance their views with the progress the government had made.
"I know that we in government, because we know we have a very big responsibility, we are very timid, we are very shy to tell what is happening.
"And we then create a space that those who are critical, they look like they are telling the truth that nothing has happened.
"I hear every day all these clever people are saying that nothing has happened in this country. Nothing, no delivery, nothing.
"For criticism to be respected, it must be balanced, it must be objective. It cannot be one-sided," he said.
Zuma's defensive flare-up was the second in recent months. In May, he gave his detractors a piece of his mind when he spoke at the congress of the National Union of Mineworkers
He said: "I know what I'm doing. I didn't get here by mistake.
"And that is why I am not going to be diplomatic on matters of revolutionary principles. There is no diplomacy required."
His outburst yesterday came on the same day that one of his ministers, Paul Mashatile, called for radical change in the ANC's leadership. Speaking at the ANC Youth League's 68th anniversary celebrations, in Johannesburg, Mashatile said: "We must renew our leadership and make sure when we elect leaders in Mangaung ... that we bring in the new generation of leaders."
Zuma told councillors and municipal leaders that people judged the government's performance by their first-hand experience of municipalities.
He said some critics often took advantage of his humble nature and sensationalised their critique on the government.
"The criticisms are as if nothing has been done, and it is unfair to the government. All I am calling for is balanced reporting about the progress we have made. That's all."
A report released by auditor-general Terence Nombembe in July paints a grim picture of South Africa's municipalities.
The damning report found, among other things, that 70% of all audited municipalities had incompetent officials and that most used outside consultants to balance their books despite municipal employees being paid to do the job.
Nombembe said politicians seldom took his recommendations seriously, and that political leaders and officials were not held accountable for poor performance.
On the day the report was released, Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane said it was time to evaluate the link between service delivery protests and badly managed municipalities.
According to media reports, the latest research by Municipal IQ has found that service delivery protests are on the increase, with 113 reported in the first quarter of this year alone.
Zuma's leadership style has come under severe criticism both from opposition parties and faceless ANC leaders.
ANC leaders have questioned his fitness to lead the party for a second term based on back-to-back crises under his watch.
There is now an "Anyone But Zuma" (ABZ) campaign led by ANC members determined to oust him at Mangaung.
Among the issues that have embarrassed the party is his reluctance to suspend or sack Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga for her department's failure to deliver textbooks to schools in Limpopo and other provinces for more than six months – a crisis that has led to multiple investigations and lawsuits.
In May, Zuma was grilled by MPs about his failure to intervene in the suspension saga of former police crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli.
He has also faced censure for a number of controversial appointments he has made, including that of Menzi Simelane as head of the National Prosecuting Authority.
Simelane's appointment has been overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeal.