Zuma is still the man

2016-04-04 13:42

During the post-apartheid period, President Nelson Mandela provided an excellent example of a much needed progressive masculinity for all South African men. He also supported a progressive femininity based on principles of gender equity and empowerment of all South African women.

Mandela publically challenged the violent and domineering behaviours of apartheid’s white male politicians. He publically challenged the traditional African man to perform household duties – to cook and take care of the children.

Yet, it is the Zuma masculinity prototype that has always had a certain broader appeal for black South African men and women. According to experts in gender studies, this is partly because President Jacob Zuma represents a traditional black African masculinity.

Unlike Mandela and President Thabo Mbeki, Zuma is not educated. He does not come from an elite family. In fact, he only overcame illiteracy while imprisoned in his twenties. He promotes a masculinity that glorifies male sexuality, tribal and religious leaders, tribal customs and rituals, and hope for economic success. It is not surprising that Mbeki was viewed by many as aloof, dictatorial, and even a bully, while Zuma is viewed as being warm, open, and respectful.

Despite his remarkable failures, Zuma’s continued political success provides hope for the ordinary black African man who keeps failing to rise above poverty and illiteracy – a plight that is all too familiar to the typical black South African woman.

Julius Malema’s more radical masculinity on the other hand promotes land seizures, nationalization, and attacks on white farmers and white capital. Like most societies, his threat of force and violence gets its roots from the precolonial period. However, its constant reproduction is at least partly a function and consequence of colonisation and apartheid. Support for Malema’s brand of radical masculinity and racism will grow as the economy continues to struggle. White extremist groups will also emerge from hiding to show off their brand of radical racist masculinity.

Meanwhile, the ANC women’s league’s (ANCWL) outlandishly loyal support for President Zuma whenever he gets himself into trouble, and the substantial support he receives from the majority of black South African women, is perhaps not that surprising.

In fact, many South African women across the race and class divide reject progressive values which seek a radical change in the role of women in the home and broader society. Despite the high level of men's violence against women in South African homes, women continue to explicitly or implicitly support patriarchy and gender inequity. They support many outdated family and community values which contain the hidden power and dominance of men.

Anyway, I think the DA lost a major opportunity to address black South African women voters in the media during the recent Nkandla judgement.

They focused too much on legalese and too little on addressing the people – and particularly black South African women voters. Why speak wholesale about jargon like constitutional democracy and not nail the whole drama down to simple themes like trust and betrayal?

I suspect that Mmusi Maimane’s advisors are those macho, elite, bureaucratic white men who love big 4x4 bakkies, rugby, gun ownership, and most dangerous of them all, jargon – they represent a type of modern urban backward masculinity.

Granted, their message was still clearer and more coherent than that of our prehistoric, evasive, bumbling blabbermouth, Mr Gwede Mantashe.

Nevertheless, if there is no change in the DA strategy soon, Maimane will struggle to overcome being branded as boring, uptight, middle class, un-African and elitist, by many ordinary black African women voters.

He needs to tactfully expose the unequal roles of women voters in our society and free them from their ‘mind control’, to challenge the ANC kleptocrats and move this farce of a democracy forward.

I am not convinced that his particular ‘charm’ will ‘seduce’ the majority of ordinary black African women voters and gain him popular support.

So despite his remarkable failures and as irrational as it seems, our warm, open, direct, respectful, charming and unscrupulous President is still the man.

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