The trouble with Zuma's myths is that many believe them
Thobeka Madiba-Zuma's message reflects the chilling mindset of the first citizen, his family and his cronies
I wouldn’t recommend that we measure the mood of our leaderless nation by the musings of one of our first ladies, Thobeka Madiba-Zuma. Yet, sometimes, statements come along and reveal so much about our leaders and their cohorts that they cannot be ignored.
On Friday Madiba-Zuma defended her beleaguered husband on social media, saying those trying to push him out should know that “kuzoshuba – ungalwi nomuntu ongalwi nawe” (loosely meaning that “things will get rough – don’t fight with someone who is not fighting you”).
She then pressed on with two troubling myths that have taken root within the ANC and in much of our political discourse.
First, she said “Zuma did not join the ANC in 1991, jumped ship or hip-hopped between the struggle and wealth accumulation”.
She went on to the second, even more troubling myth: “Zuma will finish what he started because he doesn’t take orders beyond the Atlantic Ocean.”
That sounds a lot like Grace Mugabe, the former first lady of Zimbabwe, who said before the family’s spectacular fall: “If God decides to take him (Robert), then we will field him as a corpse in the election.”
Well, the millions of Zimbabweans who took to the streets when Mugabe was toppled showed us clearly they didn’t want him – dead or alive.Madiba-Zuma’s message is troubling because nowadays you hear her sentiments almost all the time in the ANC – that those who are opposed to the Zuma kleptocracy are “Johnny-come-latelies” to the struggle for liberation and, even worse, that they take their orders from foreign forces.
It would be fine if these frankly defamatory allegations were being mouthed by the likes of Madiba-Zuma alone. But these are the views of senior ANC leaders and cabinet members. They are the views of Zuma himself, a man who reshuffled his cabinet several times using bogus intelligence reports alleging these kinds of lies about people like Pravin Gordhan.
The Zuma years have been underpinned by these two lies: the exiled ANC freed us all and those who question anything are spies and traitors who take their orders from elsewhere.
When Zuma came to power in 2009 he hollowed out state security institutions, installed his own conspiracy-obsessed and pliable leaders in them and started compiling bogus dossiers on perceived enemies. Thuli Madonsela was called a spy. So was Zwelinzima Vavi. Pravin Gordhan was recalled from a roadshow in London allegedly because he was working for foreign forces.Over the past 10 years Zuma and his cronies, the Gupta family, have used their media outlets, companies such as Bell Pottinger and stool pigeons like Andile Mngxitama to push this line. It is now the intellectual backbone of their faction within the ANC and in society.
Read the words of the discredited minister of Social Development, Bathabile Dlamini, or her equally incompetent friends Mosebenzi Zwane, Faith Muthambi, Des van Rooyen and others, and you will find exactly the same argument: they are accused of corruption because they are advancing “radical economic transformation” and the accusations emanate from agents of foreign forces.
South Africa is going through a complex, secretive and fluid transition. Zuma is clinging to power. He is dangerous. His history tells us that this is a man who is so self-obsessed he would flirt with triggering a state of emergency and grabbing military power.The words used by Madiba-Zuma in her message give us an idea of what is going on in the minds of the first citizen, his family and his cronies.
It is a dangerous mindset, a chilling one. Zuma and his cohorts believe that they can still fight, that they have the moral high ground and that they remain legitimate. It is the mindset of Mugabe before his ouster. It is the mindset of those who have been stealing for so long that they believe they are doing us all a favour and that those who complain are the tools of foreign forces.
That is what we are dealing with right now. That mindset is deep in the marrow of our body politic. Even after Zuma goes, that mindset is now part of our political discourse. It will take years to eradicate. Or it may be here to stay.