Howard Feldman

The master of the game is going for broke

2017-03-30 08:18
President Jacob Zuma. (GCIS)

President Jacob Zuma. (GCIS)

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I have to be one of the world’s worst poker players. I have limited understanding of the game, I never really know when to bluff and am constantly amazed as to how other people at the table seem to know exactly what cards I hold in my hand.

And so, on the rare occasion that I do play, I make sure that it’s for charity, it’s for fun or that the stakes are so low that it makes little difference. Because there is more than a small chance that I will go home empty handed.

On Sunday night when I found myself in such a position I was mortified but intrigued by a comment by one of the more seasoned players at the table. “You have to identify the donkey at the table,” he patiently explained. “And if you can’t, then I am sorry to say this, but you’re it.”

Well I couldn’t. And so I guess it was me.

This is very unlike President Jacob Zuma, who thus far has appeared to be a master of the game. There is little doubting his gift; the way he has read his opponents, lured and cultivated them and set them up for failure when the time was right for him to play his hand.

He has known what each person held and that their biggest fear was that he would turn their cards face up for all to see. He counted on the weakness and watched as they sweated and squirmed. All whilst he smiled calmly. He controlled the table and everyone around it.

Until now.

Recalling Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan from his investor road show was a brazen and dangerous play. It sends signals of a man who has nothing to lose and is prepared to go “all in”. It was clumsy and brash and more than anything, in an attempt to show strength, it was a sign of incredible weakness.

In what is almost Shakespearian in style, the gods have conspired further to hasten the end of Zuma the despot by throwing the passing of an ANC stalwart and icon into the mix – a stark reminder as to what the party was, what it stood for and what true leadership meant.

The death of Ahmed Kathrada is further a link to the values of Mandela, to whom he was close, and stands in glaring contrast to Zuma, a man who clings to power at all costs. The timing could not be worse for him.

Despite what marketing people at ANN7 tell us, the firing of Gordhan is not as simple as it would seem. In a cabinet that has seen ministers get away with just about anything, it will take expert bluffing for anyone to be convinced that the removal of the finance minister is anything but a personal whim of the president whose spat with him is now public.

It will not be simple to sway opinion when it is Zuma who invited the Guptas to the table, where they now not only participate, but command. The public is painfully aware that they not only shuffle cards and deal, but they also supply the pack.

At the time of writing Gordhan is still in the game. His hand is held close to his chest and he does not blink. Zuma faces him head on. The NEC too are present but they are afraid. Gutless and uninspired. They have learned that when the stakes are this high they are better off silent.

But behind Zuma’s defiant stare is a flicker of fear. A bead of unwanted sweat appears on his brow. He can’t wipe it as he risks drawing attention to it. He knows he has raised the ante and can’t back down. Not now. He has won before and he intends to do just that. No matter the consequences.

So he goes all in.

On Sunday night my friend told me that if you can’t identify the donkey at the table, then you are it. 

- Howard Feldman is the author of Carry on Baggage and Tightrope and the afternoon drive show presenter on Chai FM.

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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