Dashiki Dialogues: Zuma’s imperfect dashiki

2013-10-14 10:00

Around this time five years ago, President Jacob Zuma was slouching towards the Union Buildings. His juggernaut, the Zunami, as his campaign was dubbed, seemed unstoppable in his march towards power.

Many people who were wary of a Zuma presidency were coming to terms with their source of despair, some were probably irrevocably disillusioned while others were deciding to give the man from Nkandla a chance under the sun.

He was, after all, a product of ­Africa’s oldest liberation organisation and movement. So he wasn’t beyond redemption.

On the other hand, there were those who were overjoyed at his impending triumph over his political foes.

There was much talk about how uBaba is a kind leader who is not vindictive. A few months later we saw a newspaper column that declared how the sky had not fallen with Zuma’s ­ascent to the throne.

Now his term, at least his first one, is coming to an end.

It becomes necessary to remember the jingoist rants that were told in the charge of the Zunami as it was sold to us.

In other words, it is time to take stock.

I’m convinced Zuma has missed some great opportunities to truly transform the land beyond mere post-colony.

His baggage of alleged crimes and stigma, if not sheer ineptitude, may have blinded him from seeing a unique creative opportunity that would have made him arguably the most dynamic African president of a modern state.

Here’s why: Zuma’s affinity for grass-roots development meant he could have been a champion of the downtrodden.

He was sure of not only the ears but the hearts of working class people, who are the majority in this country.

But the kangaman would not be their superhero or saviour, as the landless people of Cato Crest, a shack settlement near the Zuma stronghold of Durban, had learnt through death at the hands of police.

The president’s closeness to cultural and traditional figureheads meant he had an opportunity to bridge the gap between traditional Africa and her modern manifestation.

This was a chance to perfect the African Renaissance his predecessor Thabo Mbeki had theorised.

Instead, he projected himself as a philandering polygamist and thieving patriarch who even distrusts his urban, detribalised fellow Africans with jibes like “cleva blacks”, thereby ­alienating much of the black middle class.

Zuma rightfully understands the links between the church and political movements as a constellation of a broad leadership guard that can’t be wished away.

As his first term ends, I pray for a more inspired dialogue with­ ­Zuma’s dashiki as he approaches taking the helm for a second term.

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