Karma is a bitch, President Zuma

2013-12-15 10:50

What happened to President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday at the memorial for founding president Nelson Mandela was awful.

It must have been deeply stressful and humiliating to be booed and jeered in front of a combined national and international audience running into billions of people.

At the biggest public gathering of his career, our president was made to look small. You cannot but feel for him. But the universal principle of karma was at work.

In Polokwane a few years ago, at the ANC’s previous electoral conference, the president’s predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, was miserably humiliated by ANC shock troops.

It was then that the soccer substitution sign and “chaaaaange” call became part of ANC culture. Mbeki was prevented then from presenting his report to the conference.

With every power to nip it in the bud, then ANC deputy president Zuma did not do so.

He sat poker-faced through days of rebellion as Mbeki was humiliated.

He had the power and influence to stop this culture of booing then. But he employed ill-discipline as leverage.

And now that same leverage is being used against him.

Since then, it has become part of the governing ANC’s political arsenal. But it started before Polokwane, when T-shirts bearing the image of Mbeki were burnt outside court appearances by then ANC deputy president Zuma. At a ceremony to rebury Moses Mabhida, Mbeki could not speak over the booing.

President Zuma has never spoken out against an undisciplined and disruptive political corps, and now it has turned around to bite him.

It is worth remembering that the president also sat, stony-faced, when Western Cape Premier Helen Zille was booed by ANC cadres at a state affair a few months ago. She looked to the president to stop it, but he did not.

The ANC has a rich history of internal revolt (it is how Mandela came to prominence in the movement), but it also pivots on revolutionary discipline.

A culture of booing, of intolerance towards people and their ideas, and of not accepting the authority of leadership can fairly be laid at the door of President Zuma.

He is the leader of the ANC and should end this politics of ugly or it will take root in a new generation, the watchwords of which should be an openness to fresh ideas and deep debates.

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