Prince Mashele, Zuma and the Ruralitarians

Jeremy Gordin examines the thesis of the pundit's "The Worst Shall Govern" article

Do you know who Prince Mashele is? According to the blurb at the bottom of his article on page 11 of the Sowetan of March 19 he is CEO of the Forum for Public Dialogue. The forum seems at this point to be rather sparsely staffed - but, well, from small acorns etc.

He apparently also lectures politics at the University of Pretoria, and is a member of something called the Midrand Group. I have not been able to discover what exactly this group is or does. Maybe it's a bunch of people who meet at Teasers in Midrand, I don't know.

I do know, however, that Mashele was once a speech-writer for former President Thabo Mbeki (well, according to the Internet) - and, if that's not indicative of something odd, I don't know what is.

I also know that Makhudu Sefara (the former editor of The Sunday Independent; an honorary, not blood, member of the Venda Nostra; and now editor of The Star) was often wont to use the Prince as an attack dog specializing in the mauling of Jacob Zuma, the president of the beloved republic.

I see in addition from the Sowetan blurb that Mashele has also written a book (goodness me) called The Death of our Society - and, if I remember correctly from his columns in The Sunday Independent (when I still used to read it), the Prince would like nothing more than to see the death of JG Zuma (metaphorically-speaking, of course).

Now then, enough foreplay.

The new editor of the Sowetan, one Mpumelelo Mkhabela, used to be Sefara's deputy. And he decided to inaugurate a "debate about political leadership in South Africa" with the wise words of the Prince. This took place, as I noted, in Monday's Sowetan.

Headlined "The Worst Shall Govern," the article begins with Mashele saying that there are many ways to kill a cat but for the nonce "let us focus on Zuma and the party he leads, the ANC".

We need to do this, Mashele explains, by considering the leaders of the ANC from 1912 onwards - from John Dube to Thabo Mbeki, naturally - and then we have to ask ourselves (says Mashele), how different is Zuma from the rest?

The answer, he explains, is simple: all the others were educated "in the formal sense." Zuma, however, is uneducated. Quoth Mashele: "His informal education is limited to a bare minimum."

What? I think he means that Zuma's formal education is limited to a bare minimum; because your informal education is not limited by anything; it continues for as long as you live. But let's not make fun. Sometimes sub-editors screw things up; it could happen to any one of us.

Then Mashele concedes that some of the ANC leaders were not popular - but at least "their intellectual credentials remained intact" whereas "Zuma has no credentials to speak of."

I'm not sure that "formal education' automatically equals "intellectual credentials". There are lots of people who have had "formal education" but who are far from being "intellectual" or having "intellectual credentials," as I understand the word and phrase. But, hey, let's go with the flow for the moment.

Then we move to "ethics and morality" of which Zuma, according to Mashele, has none - whereas all the other ANC leaders had tons of the stuff. (Mashele calls it "stature in society" - which I guess a herd boy from Nkandla can't possibly have, not relative to a Prince anyway).

Now, for all I know, it might be true that all the former leaders of the ANC each had oodles of ethics and morality. But what you have to watch is the sleight-of-hand equal sign (=) between no "formal education" and no "ethics and morality".

And so we rapidly come to realise that the selection of presidents in the ANC has always been guided by the following tacit principle (as Mashele for some reason calls it): "the best shall lead."

Are you following this? If you have some formal education, then you have intellectual credentials, and you also have stature in society (automatic ethics and morality too?) - and you are therefore one of the best and can lead the ANC. Politics, connections, money, factions, etc, have nothing to do with anything. It's all about intellectual credentials and "stature in society."

What a pure, holy, angelic bunch those ANC leaders of yore were! Would that I had lived then!

But, Mashele continues (as you might have guessed), Zuma has gone and screwed this all up. "He is" - and I quote - "the worst president of the ANC since 1912."


Why is this so? Has Zuma led the ANC badly? Has membership dropped? Has the party fractured in any measurable way? Has it stumbled badly in national elections? Was it knocked over by COPE? Will the DA soon be running the country? Has Zuma blapsed badly on the international stage?

Has Zuma changed the constitution? Has he ended the rule of law? Has he brought back the death penalty?  Has he had a child out of wedlock with Helen Zille? Has he been siphoning money out of the Reserve Bank? Do he and Mac Maharaj smoke dope late at night in the gardens of Mahlamba Ndlopfu?

The Prince discusses none of these issues. Why Zuma is the worst president of the ANC since 1912 is apparently this: he is just like the average ANC member. I kid you not; this is what Mashele says. Zuma - according to the Prince - "dances like them [the average ANC peasant], is uneducated like them, is morally and ethically flawed like them."

Dear readers, I'm not making this stuff up. This guy hates his fellow man, especially his fellow (dare I say the word?) black man; especially his fellow ANC man. This guy is like an Mbeki clone. Could Prince Mashele be Thabo Mbeki in disguise? Is Mbeki writing for the Sowetan under a pseudonym?

It gets even better. Mashele writes: "When ruralitarians see someone from their village on television, they interpret it as a representation of their own village." Bet you didn't know about "ruralitarians", did you? It means okes from rural areas. Apparently scholars use the word. It doesn't even feature in my 2 500-page Shorter Oxford. But, hey, Mashele knows what they are; and they love Zuma; and they are the reason for the demise of the ANC; and they are the reason he is the worst ANC president since 1912.

Zuma is merely a lucky "ruralitarian" who has benefitted from factional politics ... and so on and so forth.

What a crock. Never mind Ruralitarians; sometimes, when I read the local press, I feel as though I'm the Ruritanian president of the Youth League, wearing nothing but a plat black beret and my under rods in Mandela Square at high noon.

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