Brand built on lies

2019-01-30 06:01

FORMER president Jacob Zuma, who continues to use his popularity in KwaZulu-Natal to bully the ANC national leadership and suffocate all attempts to bring him to justice, is a creation of the very same ANC top brass now wanting him portrayed as a problem child.

Zuma only became the political giant that he continues to be around 2006, shortly after then president Thabo Mbeki axed him as the country’s deputy president. At the time of his dismissal, Zuma’s national profile was negligible, to say the least.

Even in his home province of KZN, Zuma was not in the same league as, for example, IFP founder Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who by the time the exiled Zuma returned to the country in the late eighties, had already entrenched himself in the public consciousness.

Given his average public profile at the time, Zuma, like many other politicians who found themselves in the kind of predicament in which he was, would ordinarily have headed to his village of KwaNxamalala and retired in the quietness of rural Nkandla.

However, this did not happen, thanks to some ANC leaders, most of whom later become major beneficiaries of the patronage system that was entrenched during Zuma’s administration.

With Zuma’s axing by Mbeki, these ANC leaders, who for almost a decade had been cut off from accessing state perks after failing to make the cut for Mbeki’s exclusive club, saw an opportunity to liquidate Mbeki.

In Zuma, Mbeki’s adversaries saw a man they could reinvent and sell to both ANC members and broader citizens as a beacon of hope.

While it is true that Zuma is one of the deftest politicians the country has had, his marketers knew from the outset that political acumen was not the attribute around which to market him. They knew that most people in SA and in the world struggle to distinguish between a skilful politician and a manipulator.

For ANC members and citizens at large not to see Zuma as a ANC politician who had been pushed aside by the very instruments he helped develop, this group of ANC leaders did what by their own standards is not a big deal — they lied.

Zuma, who while in prison on Robben Island was taught how to write, read and speak publicly by some of the best teachers one could have — Nelson­ Mandela, Walter Sisulu­ and Ahmed Kathrada, to name a few — was suddenly presented as a person who had been denied a quality education.

It should be borne in mind that while Zuma was being taught concepts ranging from globalisation to aristocracy, his peers back in Nkandla were left having to deal with the apartheid education system called Bantu Education, where they were taught only how to iron a shirt and dig a trench.

Despite Zuma having spent the better part of his adult life globetrotting, making stops in some of the world’s biggest cities, his handlers found it convenient to present him as a simple rural man.

The sophisticated Mbeki, who studied economics at some of the world’s top universities, the Zuma inventors said, got rid of Zuma simply because he was a rural man who never had an opportunity to go to university.

In a country where the majority of the citizens are rural or uneducated or both, the Zuma brigade’s narrative struck a chord.

To ensure that Zuma received the biggest support in KZN, the largest ANC region in the country, his marketers then added another dimension to their strategy, telling the province’s citizens that Zuma was being victimised simply because he is Zulu.

It is this twisting of facts, outright lies and rhetoric laced with tribal nationalism that created the Zuma brand as we know it today.

And, like any other brand that is properly marketed, the Zuma brand became extremely powerful, particularly in KZN.

Former Cosatu secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi, who played an instrumental role in shaping the Zuma brand, was correct when he boasted ahead of the ANC 2007 elective conference that handed Zuma the presidency, that “Jacob Zuma is an unstoppable tsunami”.

While Vavi has since left the ANC, other creators of the Zuma brand, including President Cyril Ramaphosa, ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe and Deputy President David Mabuza — who went to the extent of recruiting premiers to join Zuma’s support club called the Premier League — are still at the helm of the party.

Ramaphosa, Mantashe and Mabuza­ are, however, now doing their best to undo the damage caused by the lies the party top brass told the population in their quest to get rid of Mbeki.

However, as long as the likes of Ramaphosa and Mantashe are not brave enough to tell Zuma supporters, particularly in KZN, that the ANC leadership supporting Zuma at the time had sold them a lie, the damage is unlikely to be reversed any time soon.

And Zuma, who despite corruption scandals is still reaping the rewards of his brand, is not about to tell his supporters that the Zuma brand they continue to buy into is fake.

As a skilful politician, Zuma understands that the only thing standing between him and jail is his supporters.

As long as Zuma’s supporters are still cheering the loudest for him at ANC rallies, nothing Ramaphosa can do will convince the former president to walk away from his backers.

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