Jacob Zuma must be quietly smiling. His questionable private life and his sexual prowess have drawn so much of his critics’ focus that the rest of his defects and failings as president get scant attention.
He must be smiling, because his six marriages, four wives, multiple sex partners and multitude of children don’t seem to hurt him with his primary constituency. In fact, in much of traditionally minded black South Africa this machismo is apparently admired.
I would suggest we stop focusing on the presidential penis and start taking a hard look at who and what this man really is when he has all his clothes on.
Zuma has successfully perpetuated the image of the Great Listener; of the committed Peacemaker; of the warm-hearted Man of the People. In fact, he is not one of those things – not any longer, in any case.
Perhaps the nicest thing that can be said about our president is that he is the most cunning and ruthless political tactician we have seen on the national stage in a very long time.
He outmaneuvered the ANC’s foremost intellectual of the last few decades, Thabo Mbeki, by painting himself as the victim of dark, counter-revolutionary forces and class enemies and presenting himself to all lobbies as their access to power. Most ANC members fell for it. That, and some highly unethical abuse of state machinery, helped him stay out of court – and possibly jail – on serious charges of fraud and corruption.
Zuma is playing victim again; the victim of scheming elitists and capitalists, of unruly and disrespectful youths, of reactionary whites and their lackeys, of those who do not respect the spirit and dignity of being truly African. Are the good ANC faithful going to believe him again?
When Zuma became the deputy president of South Africa in 1999, he had the reputation of a humble man of simple tastes, a man who was in the job to serve, not to accumulate wealth or power. A man in touch with the ordinary people of South Africa.
The story has been told to me several times that Zuma, after he was charged with corruption, confronted a meeting of the ANC’s national executive committee: “Why are you doing this to me? You know very well that I am the poorest man in this room.”
It was true then.
But then he became president in May 2009. And how things have changed.
The Zuma clan started cashing in unashamedly on their connection to power – just do a search on how many Zumas or Zuma relatives have become millionaires since then. There are no poor Zuma friends or relatives.
From humble servant to the people he became a wannabe African king. We still have to find out exactly how much public money has been spent on his expansive private villa at Nkandla, but one informed estimate is that it has already cost more than R100 million.
During the recent ANC policy indaba, Zuma was quoted as saying that he woke up every morning with great concern for the poor. A day later it became clear that plans were well advanced to buy him a R2bn Boeing 777 and that R82 had already paid as a deposit – and that while his existing presidential Boeing 737 is in mint condition.
Typical of Zuma, he hasn’t said a word about the new jet, letting his ministers and officials take the flak. But it now appears that he not only was informed about the intended purchase right from the start, his office was actually an active participant in the process. I won’t be surprised if the initiative came from Zuma himself.
We should be asking the real questions of this man: what does he really believe in? Is there any vision at all lurking behind that laughing, dancing façade? Is the real Zuma the man who suddenly started using Malema-like language at the policy indaba, using the word “radical” more than ever before in his life and referring to whites as “colonialists of a special kind”?
Zuma never used the racial vocabulary of Thabo Mbeki and he was hailed by rightwing Afrikaners as someone who understood the plight of minorities. And yet under his leadership and with him as example the ANC has deteriorated into a narrow black nationalist movement with a distinct anti-intellectual bent. The last vestiges of non-racialism were chucked out of the window while he had cosy get-togethers with rightwing Afrikaners and led a fake drive to restore social cohesion.
Is Zuma even a democrat? He has led the way in dangerous attacks on the judiciary and the Constitutional Court and again set the example for an unprecedented assault on the media and on freedom of speech.
Surely the ANC faithful must realise that the man under whose leadership corruption has flourished, non-racialism wilted and freedoms diminished while no progress was made to address poverty and unemployment cannot lead us for five more years?