Zuma: heir apparent or clown prince?

2007-12-29 00:00

The reinvention of Jacob Zuma is proceeding apace. After having rubbished the man for months as an uneducated, corrupt sexual predator who lacks the integrity even to be considered as a national leader, much of the media is now full of positive articles. There is a slew of writers who rave about his common touch (as opposed earlier to his demagoguery), his common sense (as opposed to his lack of intellect) and his ability to unite the nation (as opposed to bringing it into international disrepute).

This might just be compensation, triggered by embarrassment at their inability to predict the support for him within the African National Congress. It might be the subtle and expedient shifting of alliances to the Heir Apparent — or perhaps more appropriately, given Zuma’s now infamous song-and-dance routines, the Clown Prince?

There is nothing wrong with the media presenting a more nuanced picture of Zuma, as long as this does not mean a suspension of critical faculties.

Elsewhere in the world, Zuma’s transgressions would have resulted in his shamed withdrawal from public life, irrespective of the findings of a court of law. In ours, he has not only weathered the storm but risen in prominence, dragging with him a coterie of suspect cronies, like dirty froth rising to the surface of the body politic.

It is this mediocre sense of morality and gross opportunism within the ANC that prompted Archbishop Desmond Tutu to say that we deserve better. Zuma’s response towards the man who defied the thuggery of the apartheid state to fight for democracy — and was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts — is instructive.

Clerics, Zuma said, should confine themselves to religious instruction and not meddle in politics. The National Party despots who sjambokked, jailed, deported and on occasion murdered meddlesome religious figures must be howling their approval from beyond the grave.

There is a worrying Zuma indifference to constitutional niceties like freedom of speech and the rule of law. He once made the ludicrous suggestion that the ANC constitution should take precedence over the SA Constitution. Recently — delivering the keynote speech at an event marking the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, nogal — he criticised lawyers for defending rapists and murderers.

According to The Times, Zuma said he had a problem with the legal fraternity accepting such cases. “Somebody rapes your child and kills [her]. Rapes a woman and kills [her]. The next moment, the legal fraternity is in court fighting for the rights of that person. I have a problem with that. It is a contradiction,” he said.

This is a mind-boggling statement by someone who just last year was himself successfully defended by lawyers against a rape charge. But there is also an ambivalence in his response to pending charges of corruption.

Zuma does not unequivocally proclaim his innocence but rather that he is innocent until proven guilty. The implication is that he is not quite sure of his innocence or guilt but is prepared to leave it up to the wisdom of the courts.

Not too soon, though. While his supporters incessantly squeal that justice deferred is justice denied, Zuma’s lawyers challenge and appeal every attempt by the National Prosecuting Authority to use the evidence it has accumulated, perhaps in the hope that justice will be deferred indefinitely or at least long enough for him to become president.

While Mbeki has been a prickly and aloof leader with an at times alarming absence of reason, particularly in the field of medical science, at least he understands and works within the framework of constitutional rights. Zuma, although he obviously has a persona that makes for a more accessible and pleasant dinner companion, lacks such attributes.

Polokwane has dispensed with the old — an intelligent but at times small-minded man — and ushered in the new — a plump, avuncular man with a large presence and, like the best of DJs, an ability to get the crowd dancing.

Let the party begin. And happy New Year.

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