Thabo Mbeki was sincerely flawed — but he was sincere. His deliberate sins were few, obscure, and (to many people) forgivable. Withdrawing him was ANC’s admission that his attitudes on HIV/Aids and many other issues were a deadly error in judgment, but not malicious or motivated by greed.
Not so with Jacob Zuma. Recalling him in the midst of so much pressure to do so would be an admission that the ANC stood behind a deliberate sabotaging of government. They could recall Zuma quietly if there weren’t pressure to do so from society and opposition parties. They can’t be forced to recall him as long as they have the voters’ consent to keep him. All the pressure will do is make them dig their heels in and gather ranks around him more fervently.
It would take a proper, physical upheaval — a coup — to get Zuma removed. Anything between dead silence and physical action will be a waste of time; worse, it will make ANC dig their heels in deeper; it will push the intended result away. A protest could have removed a Mbeki but won’t work with a Zuma. They’re wildly different in strength and in error.
When the ANC does recall Jacob Zuma, it will find a distraction for everyone to focus on. While that trends, they’ll take steps to secure amnesty for Zuma and those he worked with so the whole party doesn’t burn with them. They’ll methodically take his office apart, get a few foreign governments in on it to make it look like a planned change. They will then manoeuvre someone else in Zuma’s place. Alternatively, they’ll make him more of a toothless president than he’s already become and run the country from Luthuli House behind Union Building’s back. Either way, they’ll regain control of the narrative and secure what little is left of their legacy.
Because that’s what they do: they control the narrative. They don’t do it on social media but on the streets. ANC-voting chanters and the toi-toiers are the final authority in this country; that they don’t know how to use it is doesn’t change that they have ultimate power. ANC could sell the story to their constituency that they’ve been presented with uncontestable evidence that Zuma is bad, and that it was the ANC that immediately did the right thing and purged him out of the presidential office. And that everyone else was running around in racist circles trying to prove something that wasn’t there.
The recent focus on racism served to give ANC common ground on which to stay in touch with their voters. Am I saying racism isn’t real? I’m saying the ANC doesn’t play all its cards at once. It will sit there, watching racists being racist, bias being bias – in other words, social and mainstream media being social and mainstream media – and then one day when pressure is at its worst, present Zuma to black people as the lamb being martyred by the blatant racism that defines South Africa.
Make no mistake what the narrative has been: Zuma and his ANC have been devotedly trying to manage this racism scourge. Never mind that it is they who are benefitting from inequality and structural racism. They’ve done the most to fight these evils even if they’ve also benefitted from those evils themselves. Forgive us, we are black like you; why are white mistakes forgiven so easily. They’ll play this game until you don’t know which happened first: Zuma’s badness or Zuma’s blackness. Because to racists, blackness is badness and that idea filters through and is read back into seemingly innocuous media reports.
As long as social media’s response to mainstream media is peppered (as intended, so white people choose DA over ANC though they’re different-race versions of the same party) with intimations of “we told you they couldn’t govern” and “we told you they would be corrupt and lawless,” the ANC can scream, “racist conspiracy,” “media bias,” “double standards,” and their voters will flock to the polls to defend them as their own.
Nothing has been found to convince ANC voters that they should vote differently. The Guptas? What’s that? A set of islands off of Madagascar? Nkandla? He never asked for those upgrades and he’s agreed to pay back that “reasonable portion” everyone keeps talking about but nobody’s worked out, so what’s the problem? Poverty, unemployment and inequality? White capital with power to change these things is complaining about them as though they are the ones suffering; who are they trying to fool? They are just trying to use the situation they benefited from for years to bring about a regime change. And spy tapes? Right to privacy, nobody is perfect, please. 700+ corruption charges? Racist white counterrevolutionary tendencies.
Deflect, deflect, deflect. Deny, deny, deny.
A week or so ago, Simon Lincoln Reader wrote a piece titled, “The day London saw through Jacob Zuma” in which he pointed out all the ways British economists and politicians had not been fooled by Jacob Zuma’s tactics. “Zuma spoke like someone convinced that, whatever he was, whatever he had done or was going to do, the British had already done far worse,” Reader said.
But hadn’t they?
Having discredited Zuma’s many tactics, Reader did not take the trouble to concede this point. He did not even dignify it with an attempt at a refutation. To him, it doesn’t matter whether Britain has violated South Africa more than Zuma or not; it’s only black lives and those don’t matter. All that matters is the economy and the way Britain sees it. Why, then, should black people trust social and mainstream media voices on Zuma when those voices (speaking to and for white supremacy) have barely started describing the very evident inequality caused by apartheid, which they benefitted from?
Short version: if you are black, you must protect Jacob Zuma at all costs.
Racial oppression is the biggest reality in black people’s lives. Racial oppression is something white people hear about and are tired of hearing about. If they’ve more than heard about it (that is, experienced it) they see those isolated instances as reason enough for black people to stop seeing their experiences as uniquely horrendous and ongoing. “You’re not especially victimised except in your minds” is the constant message.
If the ANC wants to get rid of Zuma, they will have to drum up a charge that their voters will relate to, and then very regretfully ask him to resign. Then they’ll be the good guys all over again, continuously fighting for equality and non-racism though benefitting from inequality and structural racism in full view of their voters.
When Reader failed to give Zuma’s point about the British having done worse any credit, he wrote about what he’d probably only heard about. To a black reader, Reader glossed over what colours and defines a huge part of their life experience. You tell me whether black people care, then, what London thinks about Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma. Keeping Zuma would be their way of saying Screw London and their access to South African minerals, resources and labour. Rather have it stolen by one of our own than them who will turn around and be holier-than-thou.
The EFF is the only party that promises to do now what the ANC has been promising the black majority for the past 104 years – to deliver black people from tangible white supremacy and ongoing apartheid. The question, then, is who is funding the EFF and what will those funders do once the EFF grows enough to pose a threat to other parties’ caucuses? For all we know, the EFF could continue to be be bankrolled only on condition that it someday merges with one of the other parties – and it could truly be any of the other parties, economic policy differences be damned. If racial and racist policies could be swept aside in the 1990s, nothing is sacred; it’s only being sold as sacred.
And that’s why the ANC cannot let the EFF win this battle because if it does, EFF will go on to win the war as completers of the black liberation project. If Jacob Zuma is recalled, it would be the second time that the ANC’s youth, whether in Julius Malema, now EFF leader, or Ronald Lamola as another Youth League leader, would have confirmed the impression that the ANC is no longer there to liberate black people but benefits, through Zuma and his connections, from the exploitation of the country’s resources.
The ANC could create a distraction; Gwede Mantashe could pick up the phone and tell every news editor to focus on that or kiss state advertising goodbye. Watch ANN7 and The New Age break it first and the Guptas leaving Saxonwold at their own leisure. Money always wins; The House always wins.
Alternatively, we the people can focus on something else and give the ANC the space to give Zuma a dignified, peaceful exit.
Or, third option, the people themselves can take on the black-and-everyone-else liberation project, removing government’s supposed monopoly over the task from it.
But the head-on “Zuma Must Go” approach is moralistic grand-standing for opposition parties that will achieve nothing except the opposite of what’s intended. It will simply continue the game. The DA will always be there to rescue white people from Zuma and the ANC; the EFF will always be there to complete what the ANC started, and the ANC will always be the party that’s done more than any other to alleviate the inequality it also benefits from. Whether it is sincere or not, the EFF is the fastest-growing party because it most directly speaks about the issues that visibly, physically make South Africa what it is. Open your eyes.
If you want Zuma gone, sit back. Conserve your energies for the time you go to physically remove him from presidency. Which you will only do if you have nothing left to lose. You only have nothing left to lose if you have not been benefiting from the status quo. Which is exactly who the EFF has been speaking to.
But hash-tagging that he must go may simply serve to keep him in place and all these political parties fed and relevant. It will give the ANC something else to spin and channel and re-narrate.
Have you not had enough of that?
Siya Khumalo blogs about religion, politics and sex; he has also written a book.
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