If Zuma's such a loser, why is he winning?

Jeremy Gordin says the crafty peasant has apparently triumphed once again over all the clever people


Shall we begin with Douglas Harvey Monro Gibson, our former ambassador to Thailand, or with Carien du Plessis and Mandy Rossouw of City Press? Ladies first, usually. But today we begin with Gibson.

In The Star of Monday 3 December, p 11, Gibson wrote: "[Jacob G Zuma's] first term has been a failure."

It's not clear whether he's referring to Zuma's first term as RSA president (so far) or first term as ANC president. But let's assume that he's referring to Zuma's first term as ANC president. The difficulty is that what follows seem to apply more to Zuma's presidency of the country than of the party, but anyway.

Gibson continues: "Characterised by drift, indecisiveness and no clear direction [are these not the same?], Zuma has been treated with discourtesy, downright rudeness and disdain by his own party members."  Gibson, who seems to like using three adjectives where one will do, doesn't specify which party members. Who can he mean? Little Julie Malema? The flotsam and jetsam of the youth league in Mpumalanga?

"He has carried on smiling through it all," Gibson continues.

Personally, I don't have a problem with this. Rabbi Shammai (in the Pirkei Avot 1.5) said: "Make your Torah fixed [learn it every day], say little and do much, and receive every person with a cheerful countenance."

Gibson continues: "... [Zuma's] presidential term needs major surgery if the Zuma legacy is to mean something."  WhatWhat legacy?

Never mind. Let's summarise: "[Jacob G Zuma's] first term has been a failure. [It has been] characterised by drift, indecisiveness and no clear direction... [Therefore, Zuma's ANC] presidential term needs major surgery ..." 

We turn now to the indomitable ladies (sorry, women) of City Press on 2 December.

"President Jacob Zuma will win a second term as ANC president," they wrote. "The nominations session, which reached a zenith yesterday, shows that [Zuma] has already secured more than the required votes for victory at the party's conference in Mangaung later this month. Zuma thus far has the support of 2 259 delegates, slightly more than the 2 251 he needs to secure a second term."

There you have it, brothers and sisters. ... From the citadel of St Ferial of the Spear and her adjutant Adriaan Basson, who recently shone a bright light on Lord Voldemort's dark side, we have been given, as though it were the Gospel itself, the following: the 70-year-old Zulu herd boy is going to take Polokwane, this time called Mangaung, all over again.

Given such knowledge, how are we to react? How are we to still our beating hearts? How are we to face the future without a diminution of our courage and faith?  Justice "the sky is falling" Malala has said the ANC is going to be history by 2019 or thereabouts. John Kane-Berman told a friend of mine that we are all duty-bound to be supportive of Zuma because the longer he's in power, the sooner will come the dissolution of the ANC as presently constituted...

But, as the late Norman Mailer remarked in another context, let us depart the realms of fantasy and such-like to find out what's really going on...

So this time we are not going to be taken by surprise; this time, to labour the point, even Haffajee's City Press has looked hard at the facts (the nominations) and Zuma is indeed going to come in. He's going to be in the victory chair with an unexpected partner, Cyril Ramaphosa; while it seems Kgalema Motlanthe's going off to enjoy life.


Now then, let's take our two main ingredients - (a) Zuma having had a more than crappy term as ANC president (babies out of wedlock, crumbling and defunct services, war in the ANC ranks, wholesale corruption, the Little Julie Malema revolt, the Marikana killings, the Anyone But Zuma bunch, etc, etc) and his ANC presidency therefore requiring "major surgery" - and (b) the apparent "fact" that he's going to win at Mangaung, and let's ask ourselves this:

If Zuma's such a loser and failure, if he's such an unmitigated paskudnyak, how come he's sweeping back to victory?

Why has the crafty peasant, the classic klutz, apparently triumphed yet again over the serried ranks of intellectuals, almost-intellectuals, media analysts, journalists, bloggers, political analysts, columnists, ethics experts, lawyers, and so on - who keep telling us that he's just not fit to rule? They're all so clever and he's supposedly not the sharpest pin in the box - he wears a shower head on his noggin, courtesy of Zapiro - so how come they can't get it right about him?  Or rather, how come their getting it right seems to make no difference at all to ANC branch members?

My father used to ask me from time to time: "If you're so clever, how come you ain't rich?"  If we're so clever, me and Ferial and Adriaan and Dot and Sam Sole and you and everyone else, how come our feelings and knowledge about Zuma are not shared by ANC members? Has everyone in the ANC been brainwashed? Is everyone in the ANC a moron? How can they bring back a failure such as JGZ, has everyone gone loopy? There are doubtless many Politicsweb readers who might like to think that the answers to the last three questions are yes and yes and yes ...


But let's get serious now. Obviously I don't know "all the answers" to the question, If Zuma's such a loser and palpable failure how come he's sweeping back to victory? I have been out of the cut and thrust of daily political and court reporting for quite a while now and I have not seen or spoken to Zuma face-to-face for two years, if not longer. (I saw him on Monday at Arthur Chaskalson's funeral and he was looking pretty "stressed," as they say. But Zuma's a bit like a Russian long-distance runner: the worse he looks, the better he's actually doing.) Anyway, here are a few random thoughts.

Let's take a minute to remember that Mangaung is not a general election, it's an ANC elective jamboree - a small matter that seemed to have eluded Douglas Gibson or maybe he was just badly sub-edited. Yes, I know the ANC rules the country and that the president of the ANC becomes the President of South Africa. But the point is that 4 000 or so ANC delegates will be voting, not the South African electorate. If you want to dump the ANC in 2014, you know what to do. The point is: the president of the ANC is elected by a minority and they're a minority with very specific views and biases.

The media "echo chamber" that characterised the run-up to Polokwane, in terms of which the media kept on talking to each other and echoing what each other said instead of speaking to the main players, is not so much in session any more. E.g., City Press examined the numbers and the players. But elements of the echo chamber do exist - in that the media and the chattering classes are still talking to each other, not to the folk in the ANC branches.

If I may be allowed a generalisation (which, as you know, I seldom make): the ANC branch members, who have just voted for the slates we have been discussing, really dislike the mainstream print media (and its electronic adjuncts). Why? Because, never mind Gibson's "party members," it's the mainstream media that have treated Zuma with "discourtesy, downright rudeness and disdain." It's been the likes of Peter Bruce, Makhudu Sefara, Nic Dawes, Mondli Makhanya, Prince Mashele, Ferial Haffajee, Adriaan Basson, Jeremy Gordin, Zapiro, and so on and so forth - you get the picture - who have made fun of or criticised the President of the ANC (all in the name of "freedom of speech" of course), who have denigrated him for wanting more than one wife, who have suggested righteously that it's incorrect for a red-blooded man to want to get his rocks off wherever and whenever he can, who have criticised him for wanting to fix up the family home and for wanting to give his family a leg-up (when everybody knows that that is what a chief does) and so on and so forth ...Yeah, ANC branch members really hate this bunch and their reaction is: He's our president, he's one of us, and you know what, you pompous wankers, if we want to re-elect him, we will.

In short, every attack on/criticism of Zuma has served to shore up the desire of the rank-and-file ANC members to re-elect him to the presidency - because the attacks are perceived to be driven by the print media, so-called intellectuals, the denizens of Johannesburg's northern suburbs and facsimiles thereof, and middle-class and aspirant blacks. The haves - whom the have-nots don't really like.

And Zuma has played the victim brilliantly. Every issue that has been used as a stick with which to beat him - Nkandlagate springs to mind - has been used by him as a trapping of victimhood, and it's worked well. You see, they say, the newspapers and the other enemies of the ANC are attacking our president again. Isn't he entitled to have the same kind of house they do? Or; these clever people in Jo'burg, these intellectuals, they paint a pornographic painting of him and they say it's about freedom of expression's just another way to demean our president and embarrass him in front of his family, etc. But he has never betrayed us, the poor people of South Africa.

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga, who works with me at the Daily Sun, said to me today: "I wonder if you know what a massive anti-media groundswell there is. The people voting in the branches really don't like the media and their views of Zuma. Zuma just had to sit still, do nothing, and be a victim. And it's even possible, by the way, ironically, that the media's keeness on Motlanthe worked against him [Motlanthe]."

With the exception of Motlanthe, there really hasn't been any other contender worth writing home about - and Motlanthe has messed up his own chances by not striking while the iron was hot (or whatever it was that Bismarcksaid in standard nine history).

Zuma is - as the head of a NGO said to me the other day - "the smartest politician around, because he knows how to play the system. He sewed up KZN and he has taken care of everyone of the people responsible for leadership nomination lists throughout the country. It's obvious."

Mathekga had a final comment to make. "I'm concerned about the way the media has called this - and now considers it a done deal. Nomination lists are not exit polls; I repeat: nomination lists are not exit polls. There have been, as we know, a lot of problems in various branches, provinces and regions. It's not over till the bald fellow is in the victory chair. Unexpected things could - I stress could - happen at Mangaung ..."

This article was published with the assistance of the Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung für die Freiheit (FNF). The views presented in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of FNF.

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