Zuma: the snake who trusts only stones

Andrew Donaldson writes on the President's odd remarks at his birthday celebrations


WHAT song would you have played on Wednesday for Jacob Zuma on his 75th birthday? Here at the Mahogany Ridge, opinion was sharply divided. 

Some of the regulars suggested the Beatles’ Hello, Goodbye, a “blandly catchy” affair, as the critic Ian MacDonald called it, that spent several weeks on top of the charts in 1967. (Altogether now: “You say ‘Yes,’ I say ‘No.’ You say ‘Stop’ and I say ‘Go, go, go…’”)

But others argued that such cheerful ephemera were wasted on the President, as some still refer to him, and given our mood, wholly inappropriate. They wanted instead something more cynical and dirge-like. Chopin’s Funeral March was one possibility.

But we agreed on this: an alleged directive ‘from above’ that SABC radio stations should play a special happy birthday song for Zuma was a desperate attempt to gee up an otherwise lifeless occasion.

Commentators have pointed out that, as birthdays go, this one was miserable. All those angry people demanding that he step down. The mob increases in size day by day. And that was just in the ANC parliamentary caucus.

Out there in the streets, though, tens of thousands of others, baying for his blood. At the Union Buildings they did at least sing Happy Birthday — but that was as they crowded around a burning coffin with his name written on it. 

While nowhere near the size of the crowds that marched last Friday or on Wednesday, thousands of Zuma’s supporters, mainly pensioners, did however turn up at Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown, Soweto, to celebrate uBaba’s birthday.

But it was more about who wasn’t there. The South African Communist Party and Cosatu were no-shows. Of the ANC’s top six, only Jessie Duarte pitched and was fulsome in her praise for his leadership qualities in the face of all the barbarian hordes.

That well-known chef, MK veterans leader Kebby Maphatsoe, also had a few words to say about the demonstrators. He told Zuma, “They are stressing outside. We are celebrating in here. You will continue to lead the country until 2019, so don’t stress.”

But stress, as Zuma reminded his guests, was stuff that white people get. Not him. Which is not the only thing he doesn’t get, but that’s neither here nor there. 

What he does get, it would appear, is paranoia. 

“In all the many years that I had been a member of the ANC, I had seen a lot and heard a lot,” he said. “But I have learnt to trust a stone rather than another human being.”

A stone, he explained, was more trustworthy because if he left it one place, it would still be there years later. 

“I have seen heroes come and go,” Zuma continued. “I have seen heroes turning into wimps and into enemies in my political life. I have seen comrades who stab you in the back with a spear…

“They attack me, but in reality they are attacking the ANC because it is in power and they want that power. When you kill a snake you hit it on the head and that is exactly what they are doing. They target me because I am the head of the ANC.”

That was an unfortunate use of the snake proverb. As for the stone nonsense … well, think about it. What if the stone was moved by somebody? Picked up and thrown in the bushes? He would never find it then. A more appropriate example of trustworthiness would have been a secret Swiss bank account. 

But we did like the bit about the spear in the back. It was not quite the stuff of Shakespeare, and certainly not the sort of thing usually brought up in birthday speeches, but we were reminded of Othello and Julius Caesar.

Meanwhile, out in Sasolburg, in the Free State, the ex-wife touted to lead the ANC and the country as Zuma’s proxy was urging the party to protect its snakes from the opposition.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma reminded ANC cadres that this business with her former husband was not the first time the party had gone through problems, and that it should remain united at all times.

“All this pipe talk about radical economic transformation is not going to happen if we are not united,” she was quoted as saying. “It is the first time I hear banks allowing people to go out to the streets and close the banks, so it’s clear that radical economic transformation is going to be opposed and if we are not united, how are we going to do it?”

How weirdly banky of the banks to be so banky. But long may all that pipe talk continue.

This article first appeared in the Weekend Argus.