Jan Gerber

Don't be duped by Msholozi's dithering dunce act

2017-06-02 14:54
President Jacob Zuma during Cyril Ramaphosa's speech. (Jan Gerber, News24)

President Jacob Zuma during Cyril Ramaphosa's speech. (Jan Gerber, News24)

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What infuriates me most about our president, His Excellency Jacob Guptahlikise Zuma, is that he is either incapable or unwilling to respond to the zeitgeist whenever he addresses the nation in his official capacity.

Time and time again he fails to offer any kind of mea culpa, or hope, or at least sympathy with the plight of everyday South Africans, who can't just up and leave for Dubai when the going gets weird. It would be the presidential thing to do, after all.

It might seem like an odd thing to get infuriated by, given everything Msholozi has gotten up to, like for instance violating the Constitution. But the fact that the man can stand in front of a troubled country and spew out his gibberish, sputtering like an old Volkswagen Beetle's engine on a cold Karoo morning, is the final insult to me.

Our president's speeches are an hour long oratory version of Donald Trump's tweets. #covfefe

And so it was again this week, when he presented the Presidency's budget to the National Assembly. Granted, he did attempt to address the recent spate of violence against women early on in his speech. For someone with many wives, daughters and, shall we say, female friends, one would expect this issue to be close to home and that this would translate to a passionate speech. But one would be wrong. He slugged through the platitudes in his typical stop-start fashion, the DA MPs filling the long gaps between words (and syllables sometimes) with murmurs of "Khwezi..."

I was reminded of a line in a Foo Fighters song.

"It's just fucking words! This is life or death!" I wanted to growl, jumping on my seat in the press gallery doing my best Dave Grohl impersonation. But I didn't. That would be unprofessional.

When the opposition launched its full-bore verbal attacks on Msholozi, he sat back, mostly expressionless, pouting his lips every once in a while, maybe grinning once or twice. The exception was during Dancing David Maynier's speech, where the presidential chuckle was often on display, probably more for Maynier's moves behind the podium than for what he said.

The weirdest scene of the debate was, however, when Zuma's deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, took to the podium. Halfway through the speech of the man believed to be the major challenger of the Zuma faction's bid to the ANC presidency, Zuma sat forward in his bench and rested his face in his hands. A few minutes later he was slumped backwards, his head lolling towards his left shoulder, his left hand resting on his seat, the other hand dangling between his legs. When a smidgeon of polite applause for Ramaphosa rang out of the ANC benches, Zuma jerked upright and joined in.

The previous time I noticed Zuma seemingly nodding off in the house was last year during what turned out to be Pravin Gordhan's last medium-term budget address.

Seen in isolation, Zuma's performance in the house would suggest he is more of a dunce than the Machiavellian super-survivor that he is. He looked tired, dithering, not like someone with a lot of fight left in him.

But don't be fooled by this act. In his savage obituary of his mortal enemy Richard Nixon, Dr Hunter S Thompson wrote:

He had the fighting instincts of a badger trapped by hounds. The badger will roll over on its back and emit a smell of death, which confuses the dogs and lures them in for the traditional ripping and tearing action. But it is usually the badger who does the ripping and tearing. It is a beast that fights best on its back: rolling under the throat of the enemy and seizing it by the head with all four claws.

That was Nixon's style – and if you forgot, he would kill you as a lesson to the others. Badgers don't fight fair, bubba. That's why God made dachshunds.

It is also Zuma's style, I would suggest. I wouldn't be worried if he was mocking me, like he did to the opposition in his reply on Thursday. But I would start to get concerned if he just laid there in his bench, emitting the stench of hubris, only to praise my speech the next day with a friendly smile on his face.

- Jan Gerber is a reporter at News24. He cover Parliament and politics.

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  |  national assembly


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