Over the last 150 days we have learned much about the power of the habitual in post-millennial, post-apartheid South Africa. We have heard it in the grumbling, cavilling, quarrelling and grousing about the logic (or lack of) of government decrees. We have also seen it in the defiance of logic among the many bourgeois folks who mistook their entitlement for rights, whether to go running, do yoga on the beach, surf, get takeaway coffees, or to purchase items subjected to restricted trade… We saw it in the contradictory messages relayed by official government channels, in the conflict between some experts advising government, between government officials and such experts, and in the ways in which opposition parties contradicted themselves as they opposed government proclamations.
When I think of President Jacob Zuma I think of a chameleon who – unlike a leopard – can change his colours to suit his environment and to confuse his enemies and even his friends. Over the past year President Zuma has shown different aspects of his personality to the nation. Sometimes he has been very good, sometimes mediocre and, alas, sometimes he has acted like a leader who does not respect the law or the Constitution at all and thinks that he is above the law.
The speeches were mostly good to brilliant. When reading from a prepared text (prepared by whom?) he has often hit all the right notes. From his inauguration speech to his major speech on HIV, the President impressed with the subtle framing of issues and the clear direction proposed to tackle the problems. Our President clearly has some good people around him advising him and unlike That Other Guy, he actually sometimes listen to them.
When confronted with troubles on the home front, with Kortbroek Malema’s shenanigans or spats between various ministers or members of the alliance, he has often dithered and looked like a man too scared or too intellectually weak to lead. Sitting on the fence and saying nothing in ten different ways can only work for a while when one is supposed to be the leader of the most powerful party in the country and the President of the nation. At some point his enemies are going to decide that he is a weak man, out of his depth intellectually, and then they will pounce. (And I am not talking of Helen Zille, here, I am talking about his enemies within his own party and within the alliance.)
But it was when the President was called upon to make decisions that could affect his own personal fortunes, that he has shown his truly dark side. On more than one occasion he has failed dismally and has acted like a man with no regard for the Constitution and the law. Thus he purported to appoint Menzi Simelane as head of the National Prosecuting Authority despite the fact that Mr Simelane is not a fit and proper person as required by the law. This he obviously did because Mr Simelane had indicated that he would take instructions from the executive when leading the NPA.
It is very difficult not to conclude that the appointment of Simelane was Zuma’s insurance policy to prevent any further legal troubles. If the DA application to have the decision to drop charges against the President reviewed, is successful, Simelane will make sure the President is not prosecuted. By purporting to appoint Simelane, our President did not act in the interest of the country but in his own naked self-interest and in doing so he acted unlawfully and besmirched the office of the Presidency
When leaders fail to follow the law and act in their own self-interest in an unlawful manner, they show dictatorial tendencies, which could become worse and worse if this is not checked by ordinary citizens who will become the eventual victims of dictatorial behavior. We all know the score: Today the illegal appointment of a friend who will protect you, tomorrow the torturing of a few enemies who want your job and next year mass murder, a la Stalin, Hitler or Amin.
Not all men with despotic tendencies turn out this way – and maybe President Zuma will “only” act in this manner when his personal – as opposed to political – self interest is at stake, but the truth is, we just don’t know. If I was one of President Zuma’s political opponents within the alliance I would be very worried indeed because I would not be at all sure that unlawful tactics would not be used to eliminate me politically. It is for the ANC itself and for civil society to check this kind of lawlessness before it can get out of hand.
Which brings us to the unlawful release of Schabir Shaik and the failure of the President to ensure that his Minister refers the matter to the parole appeal board. We all know Shaik is not ill. We all know his release was unlawful. We all know he was released to protect the President because Shaik was the man who was convicted of bribing Zuma and he has to be kept happy. If he starts talking and tells all he knows, well, the President might be ruined because Shaik might tell us just how and when he bribed our President and how they concocted stories to hide these bribes from the Scorpions.
No wonder Shaik seems untouchable. He has the dirt on the President and must be kept happy – even if it means breaking the law by releasing Shaik unlawfully from prison.
Only time will tell how our President will evolve. Will he grow a backbone and become a real leader, not a smiling bumbling servant of the last person he happened to have spoken to? Will he develop a taste for unlawful behavior if he gets away with the scandalous Simelane appointment to further his personal and political ambitions and deal with his enemies? Will his genial and kind side win out and will he become a nice uncle-like leader whom we all learn to trust?
My guess is, as a chameleon, he will do all these things, sometimes at the same time. The contradictions will continue to pile up and the rumblings in the alliance will increase until one day when all the sycophants will decide to jump ship and dump their Dear Leader just like they dumped President Mbeki. Surely, its only a matter of time?
PS: I am now on holiday so will not be posting much over the next two weeks. Hope all readers enjoy the holidays.BACK TO TOP