Max du Preez

Be careful of how you criticise Zuma

2016-11-29 08:02

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A well-meaning man of my acquaintance said to me last week: “Isn’t it great how the countrywide resentment of Jacob Zuma has brought black and white South Africans together again? Almost like the 2010 Soccer World Cup!”

Judged by the numbers of whites agreeing enthusiastically with Zuma’s black critics to the point where they’re keen to sign petitions and join protest marches, he seems to have a point.

But the reality is different. My own experience as a white commentator with a large black audience on social and other media, tells me there is no sign of a new unity. On the contrary.

(If you’re disappointed that I wasn’t writing about Zuma’s imminent demise this morning, let it be a reminder of the president’s tenacity and of how slow the ANC ship turns…)

EFF leader Julius Malema said last week: “You white people mustn’t cheer me on because I’m opposing Zuma. He is my enemy exactly because he protects white privilege.”

On Sunday the EFF spokesperson, Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, said: “You don’t love us when we talk about uncomfortable questions like race and land, only when we talk about Zuma.”

In the protest politics on our campuses Zuma is simply swept aside and all energy is focused on white privilege and intransigence.

It is an uncomfortable truth: in some circles Zuma grows stronger the more he’s cursed and attacked by white people.

White criticism of Zuma often moves some of his black critics to defend him.

Zuma himself and his formidable phalanx of propagandists – the ANC’s Youth and Women’s Leagues, the Gupta mouthpieces ANN7 and The New Age, captured public personalities and Paid Twitter – are capitalising on this.

They have been spreading an opposing narrative to shift the pressure away from the Zuma cabal: The real state capturers, they say, are not the black Guptas but the white Ruperts; Zuma is targeted by whites because he wants to empower blacks and redistribute land; it is blatant racism to constantly refer to the elected black president as corrupt and incompetent; etcetera.

ANN7 last week actually tried to link most of the prominent personalities in the Save South Africa campaign to Johann Rupert’s business empire.

I wasn’t surprised when some Zuma supporters made a big issue of Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom’s race when he proposed a motion of no confidence in Zuma at the ANC’s NEC meeting.

We are very, very far away from a post-racial South Africa.

But it isn’t only Zuma sycophants that react negatively to criticism of the president.

Almost every time I express criticism of the Zuma cabal or of state capture, I am faced with a barrage of reacions like “and where were your criticism when PW Botha and FW de Klerk murdered and oppressed our people?”, “give our land back, then you can criticise”, and “you whites say you hate Zuma, but you actually hate all black people”.

I have often encountered black middleclass people who suspect that most whites who criticise Zuma, actually think black peope can’t run a democracy and a modern economy.

I struggle to formulate any counter argument when black friends say to me that no whites had signed petitions or joined protest marches when PW Botha crippled the economy with his Rubicon speech or when Vlakplaas, the CCB and other state death squads targeted activists, but now they suddenly emerge as champions of democracy and human rights.

There is obviously nothing wrong with white citizens addressing the ills in our political life. But they would do themselves a favour if they chose their words more carefully.

A post-Zuma ANC would hopefully govern a lot more efficiently, but it would undoubtedly also have to take much more urgent and radical steps to combat inequality in society.

Not only the zeitgeist, but the ANC’s prospects to survive the 2019 general election demand that.

Those white South Africans who spit venom every time they mention Zuma’s name should understand that white people would probably be asked to make significant sacrifices in the post-Zuma era.

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  |  white privilege

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