Howard Feldman

#Zexit: Bidding farewell to our innocence

2018-02-12 15:06
President Jacob Zuma. (Pic: Karen Bleier, AFP)

President Jacob Zuma. (Pic: Karen Bleier, AFP)

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The truth is this. At no time before President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) had I even watched or listened to one. And now that he will not be delivering one in the future, it will be an effort to do so once again.

His SONA had all the criteria of brilliant entertainment; it made us laugh, it made us cry, there was just the right amount of violence and it had us on the edge of our seats.

But in the cold light of day, after we surveyed the chaos of the remaining debris of the drinking game in which we had so willingly participated (each time he mentioned a number), when we replayed the events of the night before, the horror of what we had participated in would leave us feeling empty, hopeless and ashamed.

Much like his presidency.

One of my favourite novels is William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. It tells the story of a group of young boys who get stranded on a tropical island. They are not in danger from anything but themselves and their own prejudice.

Throughout the novel the boys gleefully participate in hunts and rituals and ultimately lose their measure of what is and what is not dangerous behaviour. The boys form groups who war against each other and the novel ends with not only the death of the "true wise friend called Piggy" but also an island that is in flames.

Much like South Africa after a Zuma Presidency.

A central theme to the novel is the loss of innocence. The boys arrived on the island naive and child-like, but leave jaded and damaged. The playfulness and optimism, the adherence to a past of structure and of a legal system is their beacon. But then they allow their base needs to overpower them and anything can happen.

Much like South Africa after Zuma’s presidency.

The descent from Nelson Mandela to Thabo Mbeki to Jacob Zuma follows this path. Hopeful and optimistic at first, South Africans entered the democratic age with the innocence and positivity. We lapped up the dream of the Rainbow Nation and we loved basking in the glory of being an example of peaceful transition to the world. We proved to the cynics that it could be done and we felt good.

Thabo Mbeki's presidency was one where intellectually, a legal and structured system was adhered to. Indeed the cracks of Aids denialism and rising crime began to make us wonder. But still we believed in the system. And then the lack of dynamic leadership pulled the ANC towards the more charismatic and dangerous leadership of Jacob Zuma.

South Africans largely accepted the change. After all, the party that had borne the Freedom Charter and Nelson Mandela would protect the island and would never let it burn.  

But they didn’t and it did.

And somewhere in the flames lies the charred remains of South African innocence and naivety. No longer can the nation be fooled. No longer will the people of the country accept that which any political party or any political leader has to say. Because we know that politicians lie and steal and they worry more about their own future than the future of the people they are paid to serve.

The ANC has its work cut out. It will need to build trust where there is none. It will need to build optimism and positivity in a country devoid of both. Never again will it have the convenience of being believed "just because".

Lord of the flies ends with the boys being saved. They "weep for the end of innocence" and for the "darkness" in man’s heart. We are not told how they recover or if the island rejuvenates. We know that the process will not be a quick and easy one. But we get the sense that they will take the experience into adulthood and that lessons have been learned.

South Africans have come of age. President Jacob Zuma has ushered the country into maturity. Perhaps we need to thank him for that, if nothing else. 

- Feldman is the author of Carry on Baggage and Tightrope and the afternoon drive show presenter on Chai FM.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    jacob zuma  |  anc  |  politics
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