Khaya Dlanga

Is Zuma being petty?

2010-12-28 07:53

The office of the president deserves respect at all times. It should be held in the highest esteem and its dignity is to be guarded at all times. This is to ensure that the state of the presidency is never diminished. It only makes sense since it is the highest office in the land.

Not only is it to be protected from the citizens from diminishing it, but it should also be protected from the powerful who have the ability to do so as well. And of course, the office of the president is to be protected from the occupant of the office as well.

It is in this context that I ask the question: is Zuma being petty? Zuma currently occupies the office. A cartoon penned by famed South African cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro (Zapiro) depicts Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma preparing to rape Lady Justice was published on September 7 2008.

Zuma is shown loosening his pants while Julius Malema, the president of the African National Congress Youth League, Congress of South African Trade Unions general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, South African Communist Party then general secretary Blade Nzimande and ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe look on, egging Zuma on saying: "Go for it, boss."

President Zuma decided to sue Zapiro and Avusa, the publishers of the Sunday Times which carried the cartoon that so offended Zuma.

A week later, a cartoon depicting then president Thabo Mbeki also about to rape lady justice was also published. It is notable that Thabo Mbeki did not blink, nor considered suing the paper and the cartoonist for the depiction.

This clearly says a lot about the temperament of the two presidents. In public, Zuma displays a giddy president, always laughing and enjoying himself, while privately, he is a man who seems to be easily bruised by perceived insults. While Mbeki was always sensitive to criticism and would attack detractors on his ANC president blog.  

In the middle ages, Kings would employ a court jester, whose role was to say whatever he wanted to say - of course he had to be funny. He was the only person allowed to make fun of the king without fear of being executed. Zuma’s suing of a cartoonist is like a king suing the court jester for making fun of him, when it is in fact his duty to do so.

When Nelson Mandela was depicted as a pot-smoking monkey during his presidency, many were offended on his behalf, but he simply laughed it off. One cannot imagine Mandela suing Zapiro for a cartoon, he might have been upset about it, but he’d never go as far as suing. That, if anything demeans the office of the president.

What would Mandela have done in the same situation? I don’t claim to know him intimately, nor know him at all, but one can guess that he wouldn’t have sued. What he would probably have done was give Zapiro a phone call.

The man was not above calling people. Once that was done, he would have probably called Zapiro in for some tea and turned the man into an ally; not sued and thus giving the jester more ammunition. That is the mark of true leadership, not this cartoonist-suing pettiness.

Mr President, this is beneath you. You you should be paying no heed to slights like this.

- Follow Khaya on Twitter.

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Read more on:    khaya dlanga  |  zapiro  |  jacob zuma
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