when the president is king

2010-02-13 13:33

There is more and more evidence that President Jacob Zuma actually

sees himself as a king or paramount chief rather than the president of a modern


(If only his role model was king Shaka, who never married and never

had children.)

No, Zuma wouldn’t see a tyrant king like Shaka or Mzilikazi as a

good example of leadership. Zuma would look at the benign, gentle kings of our

region, like Moshoeshoe of the Basotho, Sekhukhune of the Bapedi or Sobhuza of

the Swazi.

All three these three kings were great nation builders who brought

stability to their region at times of turmoil. Moshoeshoe (1786 – 1870) was the

first great leader of our region who preferred to consolidate and defend his

kingdom rather than wage war. Sekhukhune (1814 – 1882) was, like Moshoeshoe, a

listener, unifier and a just ruler. Sobhuza, who ruled the Swazi between 1921

and 1982 and led Swaziland to independence in 1968, unified the Swazi people and

established a culture of tolerance and peace.

These kings did not derive their authority from intimidation or a

show of force, but by living close to their subjects and knowing their needs and


But they were not democrats. They did not believe in egalatarian

societies. The king would surround him with his most loyal confidentes who had

proved their commitment to him and he would consult the elders, but he didn’t

tolerate criticism. The rule was ‘do as the kind says, not as he does’.

Zuma, likewise, is a peacemaker, a listener and someone who lives

close to the people. Like most of our region’s kings of the last few centuries,

Zuma also has a ‘great place’ or a royal kraal – Nkandla.

But his primary instincts are also not democratic. He cares deeply

about his people, but he remains the ‘chief’. He sees it as his right to appoint

those who have proved their loyalty in positions of power regardless of public

opinion (Moe Shaik, Menzi Simelane, Jon Qwelane, Bheki Cele, Mkothedi Mpshe,

etc.) He cannot see anything wrong with one of his subjects helping him out with

a few material things in exchange for a favour or two – and if that loyal

subject then finds himself in a spot of bother, it is the king’s right to

intervene and help him out (like organising ‘medical parole’ for him). And he

believes he as chief or king is entitled to any woman he desires.

Moshoeshoe, Sekhuhune and Sobhuza also happened to have had many

wives and children – Sobhuza had seventy wives and 210 children. But this wasn’t

because they couldn’t control their urges or wanted to prove their manhood.

Apart from the one or two wives they married for love, they married others for

diplomatic or political reasons - to promote social cohesion, to strengthen the

centre of power, to secure the loyalty of different clans and families. Zuma has

no such excuse.

I think Zuma is misinterpreting South Africans’ view of traditional

culture. Apart from some older folk in the rural areas, most of us actually see

our country as a modern, progressive state even if we cherish the legacies of

the past.

We need a proper president, a CEO, to lead the management of our

crumbling, divided country, not a sweet old chief.

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