Khaya Dlanga

Are Jacob Zuma’s days numbered?

2010-08-31 08:20

The knives are out. One can hear the clang of metal against metal as the knives are being sharpened. The sounds speak, “mene mene tekel”. The future victim knows it. He can hear them in the night. Former friends have now become foes. Unlike Caesar who exclaimed, “Et tu Brutus” when he was betrayed, this president won’t be surprised. This is what has become of the ANC.

Sometimes he can see the knives in the shape of words in newspapers. He protects himself, starts trusting few because he no longer knows who to trust. The big circle he first came with has become smaller as those who believe they made him feel ignored. Loneliness sets in as he they plot against him. The president knows it.

The president emasculated himself by allowing himself to be beholden to the unions by accepting their help during his years in the wilderness. Now he has everyone to please, but he can’t really please anyone.

Soon after he won the presidency of the ANC, he would make pronouncements to the media and other leaders like Gwede and Vavi would contradict him publicly and he would back track. It was humiliating. This told us what they thought of him: “You belong to us. You owe us. We have you by the balls.” This is why the president can’t be seen to be too harsh with the unions, unlike Mandela and Thabo Mbeki who were very firm with them.

Barely seven months into his presidency, Time magazine had our president on its cover, “The Surprising Promise of Jacob Zuma.” I was with them too. He had surprised me. The article was a glowing review of his presidency. His presidency was even being likened to that of South Africa’s greatest statesman, Nelson Mandela. A little premature, I’d said to myself. Perhaps we could have said that he’s had a good start.

Setting the bar

However, we never did ask ourselves this question honestly: Did Jacob Zuma’s presidency begin at what appeared to be such spectacular heights because everyone had such low expectations of the man? I believe so. In all honesty, we praised him for simply doing things that were expected of a president. For him, what was an average achievement, we regarded as extraordinary, and what was bad, good.

We have only ourselves to blame for setting the bar low for him. For when we did, we set it low for ourselves.

Each passing generation hopes that the generation after it will do better, not worse; improve, not deteriorate. When Mbeki took over from Mandela, he would become a better president - something Nelson Mandela would say over and over again. Thus we have ourselves to blame for thinking no better of Zuma. When we praise him for being average, how does he push himself to be better?

When we say these things about the president, we don’t say them because we are glad he is the way he is, it is because we want him to be better at his job. We also want him to want to be better. But simply wanting to be better isn’t good enough.

The fact that there are rumours going around that this president’s days may be numbered is not comforting. The president has lost control of the alliance he had no control over in the first place. The day he allowed his desperation to be at the hands of Cosatu, the ANCYL and the Communist Party was the day he gave up on any power he could have had.

This is the first time since our democracy began in 1994 that a democratically elected president has had no clear vision that he can be articulated by the general public. Nelson Mandela stood for reconciliation. Some thought he was selling out, some were glad he tried to unite the country after the end of apartheid.

When Thabo Mbeki became president, we all knew of what some called an Africanist agenda. We knew that his vision was that of Africa. A South Africa that could do anything and did not depend on the West, nor did we have to bend to the will of the West. This was characterised by his fight with the drug companies. A man with many flaws, but he did a lot.

Going down

We still don’t know what this president stands for; what he would tell us is that it is for the ANC to tell him what he should stand for. This president needs to do something really quickly before he gets humiliated in Thabo Mbeki proportions.

Or, unlike the former president, if he believes this is beyond him, he should not run for a second term.

The president needs to stand for something because he is damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t. It is better for him to go down standing for himself as a man than to go down because he was trying to please everyone.

How will the president choose to go down? Because either way, he is going down.

- Follow Khaya on Twitter.

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