To boo is not taboo: Mondli Makhanya

2013-12-17 10:00

The day of Mandela’s memorial was a turning point in Jacob Zuma’s relationship with the people. It was also the day when his world peers witnessed his public disrobing as president of the country. But the reaction of ANC leaders shows that they have yet to grasp the enormity of what happened on that day, writes Mondli Makhanya

For some time now, there has been concerned talk inside and outside the ANC about the oration Jacob Zuma would give at Nelson Mandela’s final sendoff.

Much of this talk centred around the fact that the man with the depth, knowledge and eloquence to give Madiba a proper farewell would be Zuma’s predecessor, Thabo Mbeki.

The view was that Mbeki would give it heart and content. He would not do the doddering rehash of history that characterised Zuma’s tributes to past ANC presidents.

Alas, practicality and protocol do not work that way. History deemed that it was Zuma who was South Africa’s head of state when the great man passed on.

This was to be Zuma’s moment. Beset by controversy and plummeting approval ratings, Zuma needed this stage for his political future.

It may seem crass to characterise Mandela’s passing as a possible rescue for a political career, but we all know that many a career has been launched or boosted through proximity to the deceased leader.

So when Zuma got up to speak on Tuesday, the world was supposed to see and hear from an inheritor of the Mandela mantle. Stages do not get bigger than this. Moments cannot be as timeless as these.

Instead, the stage became Zuma’s dock and the moment was the beginning of his trial by a mob that had started booing him earlier.

No right-thinking person, no matter how unimpressed with Zuma’s political record, could celebrate the scene we witnessed on that day.

No Mandela-loving South African can gloat that Zuma got his just deserts. It was a dishonour to Madiba.

But for all the condemnation of the booing, the reaction of ANC leaders showed they had yet to grasp the enormity of what happened.

Their blaming of sections of the crowd and even Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters?–?who were themselves victims of the boo brigade?–?indicated that their heads are buried in the sand.

They cannot recognise that Tuesday was a turning point in Zuma’s relationship with his people and his world peers witnessed his disrobing.

If the booing was planned, it certainly found a ready and receptive audience. It started small but grew into a massive wave as those who had not participated in the initial booing felt emboldened to join in.

Anyone at the stadium would have seen that those partaking were enjoying humiliating the president.

To drive home the humiliation, they even cheered FW de Klerk, the last apartheid president.

Tuesday’s turning point was that the public disrespect shown to Zuma will gain momentum. By Wednesday, mourners on their way to the Union Buildings were openly celebrating the booing and shutting down struggle songs associated with Zuma.

The main reasons given for the booing was the Nkandla controversy and the implementation of e-tolls.

While they may definitely have been top of mind, the displeasure has been building up for a while. As this newspaper recently reported, a Futurefact survey found that “trust and confidence” in Zuma had slid from a high of 257 five years ago to just 37 this year. Contrast this with the “trust and confidence” scores of 227, 193 and 118 for Trevor Manuel, Pravin Gordhan and Cyril Ramaphosa, respectively, and you begin to understand Tuesday’s events.

Comparisons have been made between Zuma’s booing and the treatment meted out to Mbeki in the run-up to the Polokwane conference.

But there is a difference. Mbeki was jeered by Zuma supporters protesting against what they believed was his persecution of their hero?–?not because of what he had done wrong in leading the country.

Zuma’s plummeting popularity has to do with ordinary citizens’ real issues. Corruption, service-delivery failures and the e-toll saga are being placed on his doorstep. And Nkandla has become the catchword for it all.

When the ANC national executive committee (NEC) discusses its election lists, manifesto and campaign strategy next weekend, you can be sure it will gloss over the jeering of Zuma.

His acolytes will blame “unruly elements”. The NEC will avoid detecting the reasons for the growing resentment of a man whose charm and ordinariness made him a darling of a public that missed Mandela’s warmth in the Mbeki years.

Today, that public is judging Zuma against the integrity of Mandela and the leadership strength of Mbeki. He is found wanting.

Given Zuma’s overwhelming victory in Mangaung, the ANC has no choice but to go into next year’s election with an albatross around its neck. It will rely on its army of volunteers to convince increasingly sceptical traditional ANC voters that they are voting for the party and not the man.

They have a mountain to climb.

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