Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
12 March 2009

Give Zuma a chance?

Xolela Mangcu has an interesting column in today’s Business Day on Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, in which he argues that we should give Jacob Zuma a chance as President. (What would we do without the editorial pages of Business Day? Hopefully the rumours about its immenent demise are premature.)

As Mangcu points out:

Over the past decade we were called terrible names by Thabo Mbeki and his bloodhounds — “foot lickers of the white man”, “coconuts”, “native assistants”, “askaris”. We were banished from the public broadcaster and disinvited from many a conference. We were hounded out of our jobs because we marched to a different drum. We were called unpatriotic and plotters against Mbeki. His commandos put us down as wannabes who were only interested in meeting the president.

So bloated was Mbeki’s sense of self-importance that his acolytes actually believed the gibberish. You would have been forgiven for thinking the whole squadron was in a state of delirium. The delirium inoculated them from the reality that there were other people with minds of their own out there.

According to Mangcu he cannot be sure whether Jacob Zuma will be any different, but he is nevertheless prepared to give the new man a chance.

I attended a meeting with 100 other academics at the University of Johannesburg in which Zuma gave a clear commitment to academic freedom. Mbeki had made me so cynical about these things I kept pinching myself. . . . . And so I will give Zuma the same benefit of the doubt I gave Mbeki in the late ’90s. If he should squander that goodwill then I would be the first to let him know.

What this country needs is a wellspring of ideas that come from within its academic institutions — inspired by the experience of its people and enriched by the formful of other clever boys and girls in the land.

I have some sympathy for this view. Amongst the chattering classes there seems to be some hysteria about Jacob Zuma becoming President. As I have pointed out before, at least some of this hysteria is linked to class prejudice and the fact that Zuma is not educated and seems to be something of a traditionalist. So we would all do well to calm down and to give Zuma a chance to show that he will not only talk the talk, but will also walk the walk on everything from Aids to corruption to crime.

Can he be worse than Mbeki? Probably not.

The problem is that there are other reasons why we might be skeptical about Zuma. He is a patriarch and sexist. He is a homophobe. He befriended a crook, took millions of Rands from that crook and then did favours for that crook. This is not conjecture – we know all this from what Zuma has said himself and what has been confirmed in the Shaik trial.

Fact is that Zuma never should have been elected President of the ANC. There are far better candidates in the ANC who are not as fatally tainted as Zuma. But because Mbeki managed to scare off all the other candidates and because he fired Zuma as Deputy President, thereby freeing Zuma to campaign for the top job, it was a choice between the devil we knew and the devil we did not know.

So, I am torn. Yes, one must always give a new guy a chance to show whether he is up to the task or not. That would only be fair. But, unfortunately Zuma is ethically tainted and if we just ignore that fact we lower the standards for public morality in a most distressing way. How can we demand high public morality from our politicians when our President himself is such a deeply unethical man?

So maybe I will be a bit Budhist about this and try and hold two contradictory views at the same time. On the one hand,  in government I will give Zuma a chance and will be open to pursuasion about his concerns for the poor and his skills and getting the government to do its job. On the other, I will not forget that Zuma is an ethically deeply tainted man who needs to get his day in court to answer all the charges against him.

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