Faith Daniels

How I explained Jacob Zuma to my 3 year-old

2017-05-31 12:45

South Africans have no shortage of news. That we can all agree on. Our president sees to this daily. If he is not the topic of discussion, he has something to do with the person who is, or the situation that prevails.

From Brian Molefe, the last ANC NEC meeting, the race to 2019, the Guptas, downgrades and Nkandla – the dinner table conversation does not exist without the name of President Jacob Zuma being mentioned.

At that dinner table though, small little toddler ears might just be listening. You could just be oblivious to it and who would blame you? We discuss things in front of our children, thinking that they are just children, right? I thought that for the longest time, but I know better now.

It becomes even trickier when you’re a news mom and your toddler has an interest in what you do. Automatically he has an interest in what is happening in the country and the world, because that is the commodity you trade in – news.

My three year-old is growing up in newsrooms, with newspapers around, news bulletins on the radio, television or an app. My worklife has become his too. My saving grace for the time being, is that he cannot read. But as we work on our ABC’s, it’s clearly just a matter of time.

A year ago he started his fascination with Zwelinzima Vavi and Cosatu. He could hardly string a sentence together, but when he did, it was bound to be about Vavi. The curiosity set in quickly. Every day there was a question on Vavi – whether Vavi lives near us, whether he just goes to big gatherings and speaks to people about important stuff and whether he leads marches all the time. When Vavi’s relationship with Cosatu soured, we saw less of him in the media.

My son promptly moved on to a new fascination – President Jacob Zuma. This weekend was one of those Zuma media specials. Not one news bulletin was read without a mention of his fight for political survival and what could possibly be the points of discussion as the ANC’s National Executive Committee met in Irene. My three year old was in his element. Jacob Zuma visuals all over our screens, our conversation started like this…

Just to be clear – I didn’t know that Jacob Zuma likes cars. My toddler is convinced thereof. Also my son likes naughty people, cue Jacob Zuma.

From here the conversation started getting tough, because the questions weren’t cute and fluffy anymore. And unlike my usually grown up peers I had to think carefully about what I tell my three year old.

The very next question was, “Is President Jacob Zuma a good president?” That was followed by, “Why are people angry at the president mom?”

I had a nice ‘in’ to this conversation, because somewhere in my toddler’s mind he knew there was some naughtiness involved. Because you see, that’s what he can deduct from what he’s watching, listening to and hearing in conversations. Our children see more than we realise, they hear more than we think. They are also part of playground conversations, they too are trying to make sense of the world they live in.

In the South African context, we are all clearly doing just that at this stage. Trying to figure out where all of this will end, what it all means and for how long we will have a president fighting for survivial rather than doing what’s in the best interest of the country- leaving office.

As the seriousness of the weekend played in my head, I struggled to find the exact words to explain to my child that these things are really just politics, grown up things, that he doesn’t have to worry about now. But it made me worry, because very soon, I’m going to have to find the right words. And it better be good.

For now though, I can divert his attention, and talk about dinosaurs. I’m playing for time, because the questions will come up again and by then I’d better be prepared. But I think we have enough to work on for now. Z is for Zuma. N is for Naughty. And the two go together perfectly in my son’s world. In mine too. 

- Faith Daniels is a seasoned radio and TV journalist, and is currently head of news at Kagiso Media’s Jacaranda FM and East Coast Radio.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

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