FORMER South African president Jacob Zuma thought he had power, and he looked invincible when he was in office. Yes, he had power but his power was not real. It was fictitious power. Those who have the opportunity to serve in public office forget too easily that their power is borrowed from the citizens. They forget that the institutions of governance which they abuse when in office don’t actually belong to them.

When we look at what is happening in South Africa, we are inclined to agree with former Secretary to the Cabinet Leslie Mbula who says greedy and selfish politicians often trigger acts of criminality. The situation in South Africa must not even be understood as a protest by citizens over the jailing of a dear beloved leader. It is simply lawlessness born from a continuation of sponsored hooliganism. The institutions that were being abused by the Zuma presidency are back to haunt him and he needs the public disorder and unrest to hold them off.

There are a lot of lessons for African presidents to learn from this. It is particularly a warning to those who wish to hang on to power because the longer you stay, the more institutions you abuse and the more laws you break. And each law that is broken; each institution that you abuse, comes back to haunt you when the time comes to account.

Look at what happened to Colonel Mu’ammer Gaddafi. The Libyan supreme leader was intolerant and tyrannical. But everything has got a time. That type of government can survive decades but cannot continue forever. And history has shown that the ending of any corrupt, intolerant and tyrannical regime is always disastrous.

It is clear that it is a waste of time for any politician to try to hang on through abuse of power, corruption, intimidation and manipulation. These things have no roots. Gaddafi is gone, Charles Taylor, Robert Mugabe is gone and the list goes on. Zuma refused to be accountable when he had power, but after it was stripped off, he had to face the music on his own.

We only hope that our politicians who try to survive by intimidating opponents, abusing state institutions to harass those who oppose or question what they are doing, and who abuse our judicial process and electoral system to keep themselves in power will see that their ending will be the same.

It is better to have a country with citizens who are independent, questioning and are analytical in their outlook. The best way to govern and preserve power is the democratic way. But we are likely to see a similar ending of our leaders in Zambia because people don’t learn. Our leaders have no respect for anyone or for rules – they simply get what they want. They preach democracy but practice authoritarian rule.

The process of debate, dissent and compromise that some point to as weaknesses are, in fact, democracy’s underlying strength. Whenever there is a problem, the best way to solve it is to subject it to debate, dissent and compromise. If people have issues, for instance, with the conduct of elections, the best thing is to let them freely air their views and strive for a compromise.

To some, this is not necessary, it is a waste of time and decisions have to be made only by those in power and purportedly mandated by law to do so. If it is printing ballot papers with a company that is corrupt, that shall be so and no one can change this if those in power feel it is okay to proceed with that company.

Democracy keeps a society from becoming stagnant and unprepared for the stresses and strains that work to tear all its achievements to pieces. There never used to be protests in Libya like we see or witness in many other more tolerant societies.

This is what our politicians in government and those they have employed to manage public institutions like the Electoral Commission of Zambia should learn. Today it is South Africa burning; tomorrow it can be Zambia burning. The only way to avoid what is going on in South Africa is to respect others and listen to the voice of the people and learn to negotiate with others, to compromise and work within the constitutional system.