So, given these problems faced by the country under Jacob Zuma, which are more extreme than the problems which have been faced since 1994 — what can we do? Again, we must begin at the beginning. What is the problem? What is wrong with being ruled by President Zuma?
This seems a funny question — have we not been told what is wrong? Yes, but there are two unspoken questions underlying that answer. Who was telling us? And what were we being told?
Contrary to what we are continually told in the media, the average South African is not a complete ninny. The average South African, instead, has a fairly clear idea of what his or her interests are. What people want is a job with reasonable pay and security, bearable living conditions (with security again), access to help in case of medical or other emergency, and an opportunity for reasonable leisure; if people have children, they also want a chance for their children, preferably through education. It’s not a lot, when you think about it, but it’s a lot more than the average South African has — and the trends all seem to be going away from this ideal.
So: why did this average South African vote Jacob Zuma in as President in the recent election? Why did the opposition parties — particularly CoPe — fail to make considerable inroads into the ANC’s performance? Why did the press’s anti-Zuma campaign (and, in parallel with this, the actual strong evidence of Zuma’s corruption) fail to weaken the ANC’s performance? Does this simply mean, as the white racists tell us, that blacks will vote for anything with a black skin regardless of qualifications?
But let us first acknowledge, without false modesty, that the Creator got it severely wrong. Here was what the Creator predicted back in November:
|Party||Smart ANC, dumb CoPe|
The Creator would say that this political descriptor was the actual situation; the ANC largely called off the purges and witch-hunts in 2009 and focussed on outspending the opposition. Meanwhile, CoPe lay there like a run-over dog, feebly twitching. However, the figures are wrong: the Creator overestimated the UDM’s support by 100%, overestimated CoPe’s support by about 15%, underestimated the DA’s support by 33% and underestimated the ANC’s support by 16%. While this was understandable, it is also a sign of partisanship, because the Creator does not like the DA and ANC.
So — what happened? For one thing, the DA’s support proved completely solid and gained by picking up support in the Western Cape as a result of the ANC’s anti-coloured racist campaign (basically the Xhosa leadership in the Western Cape preferred losing the election to allowing coloureds to dominate the campaign) and as a result of everyone expecting it to win there and to have powers of patronage. So it did better than the Creator expected.
The ANC did better than the Creator expected by picking up support from the IFP, the ACDP, probably also from those few blacks who had voted DA but were now coming home, from the UDM, and from virtually all the other small silly black parties. In addition, however, the ANC was able to persuade more voters to turn out — which the Creator had not expected. Precisely because there was a fear that the ANC would do badly, the ANC was able to urge people to “Defend the ANC”, and they duly did so. This was, very largely, the likely reason for people deserting the other parties; they had previously voted against the ANC by way of protest, but now moved back to the ANC rather than see it humiliated. It is unlikely that many of these people were endorsing Zuma, so much as that they were afraid that the ANC might do badly if they did not return to it.
One can make a strong case, incidentally, that the outcome was considerably worse than the Creator had predicted. If we see the ANC under ZUMA, and CoPe under Lekota, as effectively conservative and business-friendly parties, then the ANC’s 66%, the DA’s 16% and CoPe’s 8% means that we have shifted from 69% social democratic under Mbeki, to 90% neoliberal under Zuma. That is not a change which many people would have wanted to vote for. So how did it happen? Obviously, most ANC voters did not believe that Zuma was either right-wing or corrupt.
Accusations against Zuma were of three kinds. One was that he was corrupt. One was that he was left-wing (!). One was that he was a black traditionalist with several wives and a leopardskin.
Consider the last one first. It was a painfully frequent image, one which corresponded closely with the ANC’s propaganda about Zuma being a man of the people. It was, obviously, intended to alarm whites and coloureds, especially ones with a lot of residual racism in their heads. Zuma is not one of us! Beware!
For obvious reasons a manifest racist scare tactic would not work well within the african community. On the contrary, the fact that whites were making a fuss about this worked to cement Zuma’s african support, for africans who might otherwise have felt that Zuma was too much of a pandering traditionalist would have reflected that at least this was pissing off the abelungu and therefore could not be an altogether bad thing. On the other hand, many whites, paradoxically, seem to have been quite comforted by this image of Zuma; having swallowed Buthelezi very largely courtesy of his image of a traditionalist black nationalist (as opposed to a black nationalist who might have been some kind of trouble-making leftie) the white right wing could buy into Zuma as a consolation prize for their loss of Inkatha.
The whole thing, of course, discredited the press quite severely. For one thing it was blindingly obvious that this kind of accusation was a racial attack, and this made it possible to suspect that every other press criticism of Zuma was motivated by the same sort of thing. (The focus on Zuma’s sexism by people like Jonathan Shapiro was negated by the racist links implicit in the way that Shapiro presented it; instead of Zuma being a sexist individual, Shapiro depicted him as a black man who was, like most or all black men, a potential rapist.) For another, the contrast with Zuma the traditionalist was Mbeki the pipe-smoking, whisky-sipping Western man — and the press unanimously trashed Mbeki. If they hated Westernised Africans so much, why should anyone be surprised when they trashed Africans for being unregenerate tribalists? This suggested that the press was just anti-african (which is very largely the case, especially in the case of the pitiful black editors and pundits who cleave to the same line).
So, to be blunt, an important part of the criticism (especially the subtext of the criticism) against Zuma, being racially motivated, mobilized africans and also non-racists in support of him.
The accusation that Zuma was left-wing was extremely widespread. It took two forms, however. On one hand it represented support for Zuma; in this case, Zuma’s alleged left-wing qualities were contrasted with Mbeki’s alleged right-wing qualities and, naturally, Mbeki was found wanting, because that was the object of the exercise and facts do not matter to South African journalists. In this case, the “left” meant anyone who said that they were left-wing, regardless of their record or their actual policies. In this case, of course, the newspapers were supporting Zuma and the ANC by pretending to believe that they were left-wing, and thus excusing their endorsement. This then did no harm to Zuma.
The other form of the accusation, which really only developed once Mbeki was out of the way, was that Zuma was a left-winger and therefore had to be opposed lest he do something terrible, such as spend money on the poor. This was particularly notable in, for instance, the claim from various “economic analysts” that the international markets were terrified that Zuma would be a dangerous left-winger and therefore, that people should be careful not to allow the ANC to get a two-thirds majority, lest he change the Constitution and introduce Bolshevism. (In fact, when it appeared that the ANC was getting a two-thirds majority, the stock market shot up in sharp contrast to tumbling global markets; South African big business knows a good thing when it sees it, and it likes what it sees when it looks at Zuma.) Most South Africans, of course, like the left, and so such claims as this, while they might be useful in mobilising a few right-wing whites and coloureds and indians, would mostly serve to do Zuma good.
In part, CoPe’s complaints about the SACP were spun in this way. It was perfectly valid to say that the SACP had way too much influence in proportion to its numbers, and also that the SACP’s influence was generally bad for the ANC. However, many people — including some CoPe people — seemed to be using this as a pretext for an attack on the left. This did not play terribly well in Idutywa, however much some merchant bankers might have liked it (and obviously the merchant bankers were not channelling much cash to CoPe).
So we are left with the corruption issues. Yet again, however, these were spun very differently. There was the actual corruption case against Zuma, and there was the way in which Zuma had corrupted the ANC by rigging elections, dismissing people on trumped-up charges and installing ill-qualified cronies in positions of authority. The former was given prominence in the press. The latter was mentioned far less, and while it was the main reason for CoPe’s existence, CoPe never made anything significant of it. As a result, although it was the chief reason for suspecting that Zuma’s tenure as President would be a calamitous one, and although it was the chief reason for ANC supporters to suspect that their party was no longer what it had once been, the latter issue simply fell from sight. Bluntly, it was a real political issue, an issue of mobilisation, and so it was something which the anti-political journalists and pundits wanted kept well out of sight — partly because they simply did not, could not, think in such terms.
The corruption case should have been enough to sink Zuma, but the problem was that Zuma is just one man. The ANC, it appeared, did not think that Zuma’s corruption was serious. Of course, if the ANC’s democratic procedures had been subverted by Zuma, then maybe the corruption was indeed serious and then the damage to the ANC was a reason not to vote for it — but this subversion was largely kept out of the discussion. It became a simple issue: were you 100% Zuluboy, or 100% Zilleboy? There were a few ANC supporters (like Raymond Suttner) who nevertheless felt that Zuma ought to be charged, but in fact the overwhelming majority of those who were calling for Zuma to be charged were anti-ANC people, and therefore there were obvious reasons for questioning their bona fides.
Meanwhile, the ANC was saying that Zuma was innocent. The press were saying that Zuma was guilty, but the press was also saying that Mbeki was more guilty than Zuma. If you are an ANC supporter, who do you believe — the ANC’s enemies who defame its President, or the ANC itself which declares that the whole thing is a conspiracy? Of course, the ANC was soon joining in the press denunciations of Mbeki. This should have been a giveaway that there was something wrong (why should the ANC be joining in with its enemies in attacking its own former President?). However, almost certainly, the end product was confusion and a desire to withdraw from the whole business. Rather ignore the affair completely.
As a result, all that was left of all the denunciations of Zuma was a vague feeling that he had been unfairly treated. None of the real concrete criticism cut much ice with ANC supporters, unless they were very well-informed indeed, much better-informed than the newspapers wanted them to be. Meanwhile, the press and the opposition parties attacked Julius Malema, who was undoubtedly silly, but who was attacked simply because he was the flavour of the month — he had not done anything conspicuously wrong. And then, of course, the charges against Zuma were dropped. It is difficult to be sure, but this must have done a great deal to weaken CoPe’s position. (It didn’t weaken the DA’s position because there was no ambiguity in DA voters’ hatred for Zuma and the ANC — whereas CoPe supporters were motivated by suspicion of Zuma and his allies, and that suspicion had to be weakened by the revelation that the law enforcement officers were no longer sustaining a case.)
So that is why Zuma was able to get away with seizing power in the ANC. It was partly the fact that the really important issues in his behaviour were ignored, and partly in the fact that virtually every criticism of Zuma was uttered in bad faith. As a result, many who might otherwise have felt distrustful, felt sorry for Zuma — and, besides, everybody was agreed that the ANC had done a good job in the past, and who could be sure that it would do a bad job in future? Certainly, little of the criticism of Zuma proved that. The only alternative (since all the other possible parties were appalling) was CoPe, but they had presented no reason for voting for them — they merely boasted about not being corrupt. But nobody had proved that Zuma was corrupt. So maybe they were just being opportunistic.
Anyway, if Zuma was corrupt, all other politicians seemed corrupt, too. Everybody does it. The world did not fall apart when Zuma was Deputy President. Why should it fall apart should he become President? So they voted ANC. Why not?
What the hell?