POLITICS

Jacob Zuma's Setting Up And Shooting Down Straw Men

The president is pretty adept at playing the victim and banging on about conspiracies against him. It makes for good soundbites, but it's dangerous.

23/12/2016 06:03 SAST | Updated 23/12/2016 06:13 SAST

COMMENT

President Jacob Zuma is embarking on a dangerous path.

He has visited KwaZulu-Natal — his political base — at least three times recently, addressing "cadres' forums" and "economic freedom lectures" organised by the African National Congress' (ANC) youth league (ANCYL).

On Wednesday he addressed another one of these where he shared the stage with Collen Maine, the leader of the ANCYL, who is fast emerging as the president's hatchet man.

He will not resign, he told the gathering of around 2,000 people in Durban, because if he did so it would mean surrendering to "monopoly capital". There have been calls for him to leave office, also from abroad, and he won't do it. He added those who were agitating for his political downfall can only carp on about "corruption, corruption, corruption", but they can't exactly say what he has done wrong.

He added those what are agitating for his political downfall can only carp on about 'corruption, corruption, corruption' but they can't exactly say what he has done wrong.

The media are also "controlled" by "those" who control the economy and they can paint you black "even if you are not".

And as far as the replacement of Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister with Des van Rooyen and eventually with Pravin Gordhan goes, "monopoly capital" is to blame for the resultant furore. "I made a decision and then I was attacked ... does the nation really understand what was happening?"

Zuma has always, with great success, played the role of victim of political conspiracies and nefarious machinations by dark forces. After he was sacked as then-president Thabo Mbeki's deputy in 2005 (following the conviction of his original moneyman, Schabir Shaik, on charges of corruption and racketeering) he was cast as the downtrodden hero of the masses, and Mbeki the rampaging agent of monopoly capital (Zwelinzima Vavi and Blade Nzimande will have to answer for that at some point).

Zuma has always, with great success, played the role of victim of political conspiracies and nefarious machinations by dark forces.

His next masterstroke was to let others do his bidding — and Nzimande, Vavi, the ANCYL and others enthusiastically stepped into the breach. The burning of T-shirts with Mbeki's face and effigies in his likeness was de rigeur for the period between 2005 and 2007. After he became president, this tactic was refined, whether through attacks on the public protector (PP) or the judiciary — his fingerprints were never to be found on the trigger, but everybody knew he was in that background.

With Zuma's latest rearguard action he is using KwaZulu-Natal as his springboard and Maine as his proxy (although Oros, as he is affectionately known, hasn't yet mastered the art of subtlety).

The danger with Zuma's line of attack — the anomalous "white monopoly capital", "controlled" media, rejection of calls to resign — is that he is creating straw-man arguments while delegitimising normal democratic activity.

"White monopoly capital" has been a favourite and easy target of Zuma's. It's a catch-all designed to lump together every formation, organisation or individual critical of him. The irony of course is that Zuma and his family are very much engaged in dealing with monopoly capital, as their proximity to the Gupta family (which has replaced Shaik) illustrates. And capital provides much of the dough government uses to pay salaries and provide infrastructure.

The irony of course is that Zuma and his family are very much engaged in dealing with monopoly capital, as their proximity to the Gupta family (who has replaced Shaik) illustrates.

The media — as in the United States after the election of Donald Trump — is also in the crosshairs (but we're used to it). It's role however — to report and challenge authority — seems to be wholly misunderstood, hence these attacks.

The most dangerous line he is taking however, is his defence of the decision to sack Nene in December 2015. "I made the decision ... I was attacked by monopoly capital ... does the country realise what's going on?"

Translated: "It wasn't the Guptas who intervened ... there's a conspiracy against me and the country ... you need to open your eyes and believe me!"

It's clear the president does not want to relent to criticism of his relationship with the Guptas. Even after numerous reports in the media, an investigation by the public protector and Waterkloof (it seems so long ago), he is still defending them.

It's clear the president does not want to relent to criticism of his relationship with the Guptas. Even after numerous reports in the media, an investigation by the public and Waterkloof (it seems so long ago) he is still defending them.

But the fact that he is defending the Nene disaster does boggle the mind. Even discounting the alleged interference by the Guptas and the way Nene was fired (after making a presentation to Cabinet on the budget), our economy took a massive hit.

And Zuma has never been honest in telling us why he got rid of Nene. A job at the local branch of the Brics bank? #Whatever.

Zuma is busy with a campaign and he's creating straw men to shoot down. But it's real people, institutions and our democratic culture that will suffer the collateral damage.