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
28 August 2007

Zuma for President?

My slightly tongue in cheek statement a few days ago that, given the behaviour of our Dear Leader lately, a Jacob Zuma Presidency is looking more and more attractive, elicited quite a lot of reaction. After all, Mr. Zuma does often ask for his machine gun and is also no stranger to the inside of our courts so he hardly seems like a suitable candidate for the top job.

The sad fact is that Jacob Zuma and Thabo Mbeki seem to represent the worst the ANC could offer in the line of leadership and also seem to bring out the worst in each other. We always blame President Mbeki for his paranoia and his tendency to spot enemies under every bush while warning us against the Dark Forces out to destroy the ANC, leader of the national democratic revolution.

But of course, although the President started this sad decent into the world of conspiracy theories and victimhood way back when he forced Mr Zuma to declare publicly that he had no ambition to become President, Mr. Zuma has neatly used this atmosphere of suspicion against the President to elicit sympathy from the masses of our people.

Now the two both fan the flames of conspiracy and victimhood in attempts to get the upper hand in the so called succession battle. In the process they are both hurting the ANC and, of course, the country.

In most other democracies Mr Zuma would have been politically dead long ago. Although he has not (yet) been convicted of any crime, his financial adviser Schabir Shaik, has been convicted of giving him a bribe. Yet he Mr Zuma never explained how this does not make him a crook himself. He used to say that he wished he could get the opportunity to tell his side of the story but when he was charged and given the opportunity to do just that, he and his lawyers used the vast resources provided by the state to do everything in their power to prevent him from having to provide his side of the story.

Although Mr. Zuma might never be convicted of a crime, he will remain deeply tainted. As a politician it is simply not good enough to say he has a right to use any means necessary to prevent the prosecution against him from taking place. Reasonable voters must all surely now ask what he has to hide and whether we really want to have a President who is unwilling to explain why he took more than R1 million from a convicted fraudster for whom he did several political favours.

That said, at least he is not Thabo Mbeki. He might have had sex without a condom and might have claimed that taking a shower helps to prevent HIV transmission but at least he has never doubted the link between HIV and AIDS and at least he has not endorsed a Health Minister who believes people must be given a choice between taking anti-retroviral drugs and garlic and beetroot.

So, I will not vote for the ANC while either Mbeki or Zuma leads the organisation, but if I had to choose between the two I am not as sure as I was a year ago that I would choose President Mbeki. Maybe Mr Zuma will listen to advice? Maybe he will admit mistakes and face up to them? Maybe he will show that he cares about the suffering of ordinary people. Maybe he would feel so embarrassed about taking a bribe that he will come down heavily against corruption in government.

Stranger things have happened in politics.

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