Zuma: A true man of the people or a strategic politician?

2016-04-04 09:59

Johannesburg - Under-fire President Jacob Zuma still had a lot going for him, which was why he received such a friendly welcome at an event in KwaZulu-Natal this weekend, an analyst told News24.

On Sunday morning, more than 15 000 people gathered at the Melmoth sports grounds to hear Zuma address them at an imbizo on the drought.

This was his first public appearance since apologising to the nation on Friday, following a unanimous Constitutional Court judgment which found that he had failed to uphold the Constitution, which he had sworn an oath to protect.

Despite this, Zuma received a resounding welcome as he entered a marquee, waving at the crowds shouting his name.

Political analyst Dr Somadoda Fikeni said there were three factors worth considering to understand how he could still command respect.

The first was the constant attacks on Zuma.

"Once a person is attacked to a point of being seen as an underdog, you do have people who begin to sympathise," Fikeni said.

Second was Zuma's strong traditional and rural background.

"His rural background might make it easier for him to connect to the rural constituency through use of language, through use of traditions and many other things that your traditional politicians may not be doing," Fikeni said.

When ordinary members of society, particularly Zulus, saw Zuma wearing traditional attire, attending traditional events and otherwise embracing his culture, those not aware of the technicalities of the court's judgment might think he was chastised for being true to his roots.

The third factor was the close association between Zuma and the African National Congress.

"Whoever carries the ANC brand can be associated with many other things which are ANC-delivered goods in the last 22 years," Fikeni said.

However, Fikeni pointed out that merely because thousands of people had travelled to Melmoth to welcome Zuma, it did not necessarily mean they were happy with him as a leader.

"Never underestimate the sophistication of rural folks. They are not unanimous in their approvals, hence even in Jacob Zuma's own ward, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) rules. So there is a lot of fragmentation, there is a lot of discourse and debates, even in the rural areas."

Fikeni said people in rural areas would not just welcome any gift given to them, despite their political frustrations.

"To them, if they needed water and they see some response, that is what they appreciate. If you come to build them a school, when they have been asking for a school for years, that is what they appreciate, and culturally it is rude to use such an event to express your politics," Fikeni said.

This did not necessarily translate into votes for the ruling party. People looked both at the promises they were made and who was likely to be in power.

"If they find that the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) is saying the right things, but is unlikely to be in a governing position to deliver those, they are unlikely to say purely because of ideological stances, we will go for PAC."

That people were willing to vote for the ANC based solely on the fact that it was likely to deliver services, revealed how weak opposition parties were at offering a realistic and trustworthy alternative.

"It speaks to some of the inherent weaknesses within the opposition parties, that even at the weakest, even when the ANC seems to be vulnerable, they can't take advantage of that because of their own baggage at times.

"So it's a far more complex psychological play. It is not just 'ANC falls', but it is also the opposition's strength that counts," Fikeni said. 



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