Political commentary worth reading

2010-01-20 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

The Democratic Moment: South Africa’s Prospects Under Jacob Zuma

Xolela Mangcu

Jacana

 

PERHAPS expectations were unreasonably high given Xolela Mangcu’s excellence as a columnist, but this book is a disappointment. He reproduces many of his columns when they should have been quoted selectively. And he is too fond of leaden quotations from American political philosophers.

Mangcu presents a well-argued case for Jacob Zuma as president. In (very) simple terms, with his sense of history he provides a bridge ­between the frustrated amaqaba (red people) and the privileged ­amakholwa (educated converts). But Mangcu’s full frontal assault on the media for their coverage of ­Zuma’s struggles with the law is — to be ­polite — misguided.

In a legal sense, Zuma was indeed not guilty on all charges. These were political in origin and political in their abandonment. But in the ­process, a great deal was learned. Commentators were entitled — and may yet prove correct — to believe that he was not a fit person to head a modern state. Mangcu takes a ­populist line, saying suspiciously ­little about the shameful verbal ­assault by Zuma’s supporters on the judiciary.

He is on much safer ground drawing on his Black Consciousness roots and putting the case for community-based planning — blaming the ­experts of the United Democratic Front and the technocratic approach of Thabo Mbeki for service delivery failure. But this also misses the point. The technocrats, trying to work with communities, never had a chance because of the Leninist structure of the African National Congress.

Mangcu is always worth reading and lucid on issues of democracy. Where is the centre of power, he asks. And perceptively he argues that social movements are ­potentially more important than trade unions. But his forte is the opinion piece, not books. At times he writes as if he is preparing notes for a university ­tutorial — so if you read this volume, skimming a section or two is permissible.

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