POLITICS

Mandela And Zuma: A Tale Of Two Presidents

It might seem like a fallacy when trying to compare the leadership of Nelson Mandela and Jacob Zuma. But we've given it a go.

30/10/2017 10:27 SAST | Updated 30/10/2017 17:34 SAST
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Nelson Mandela and Jacob Zuma at Codesa in December 1991. Zuma promised a return to the Mandelaesque style of people's leadership when he became head of state in 2009.

ANALYSIS

Some might call it a fallacious comparison: to attempt to compare the presidency of Nelson Mandela with that of President Jacob Zuma's. It is chalk and cheese, night and day, yin and yang, gangster and democratic.

I started reading "Dare not Linger", Mandela's account of his presidential years written with Mandla Langa, on the day Zuma lost in the Supreme Court of Appeal which has judged that 18 charges of corruption related to 783 payments he received must be ventilated in court after a cat and mouse game of some nine years running.

How had we gone careening down this path where our President was in court (again) after Mandela had left firm rights-based foundations for his successors to build upon?

It was a day of such an epic fall from moral grace that Mandela's book felt like it was written about a different country. And I ended the book as Jacques Pauw's opus "The President's Keeper" was extracted in the Sunday Times as "The Gangster Republic" as it revealed further detail of a purchased president.

How had we gone careening down this path where our President was in court (again) after Mandela had left firm rights-based foundations for his successors to build upon?

It is not such an unfair stretch to compare the two administrations as they trace our story from then to now. The two men were comrades of contiguous generations but from the same political organisation and culture. The one was democratic South Africa's first president, the other its fourth (if you count the acting presidency of Kgalema Motlanthe).

WALTER DHLADHLA via Getty Images
Cyril Ramaphosa, Nelson Mandela and Jacob Zuma at Codesa on December 20, 1991, in Johannesburg. Ramaphosa now hopes to succeed Zuma as ANC leader.

They were close. Mandela is lambasted today for giving Zuma a loan when he first got into money trouble. The anger directed at Mandela for doing so is because our president and money have led the nation down the garden path. But Mandela did it because of strong bonds of loyalty, comradely kinship and a genuine fondness. A comparison is therefore fair.

I travelled to virtually every corner of the country. In the run-up to the elections in the last six months, I personally addressed at least two and a half million people through rallies and meetings across the length and breadth of South Africa.Nelson Mandela in "Dare Not Linger".

When Zuma came to office, his signature promise in 2009 was that he would return to the Presidency the Mandela'esque idea of it belonging to the people. President Thabo Mbeki who governed from 1999 to 2008 was imperious and intellectual and that was how he ran the Union Buildings. The governing ANC felt cut out of the action and so did the people.

Zuma promised a return to Mandela's common touch, but has he delivered? We chose a few themes or ideas to compare the two men and use the book "Dare not Linger" as the source of most quotes.

The People

Mandela writes: "[In my capacity as] the ANC president, I travelled to virtually every corner of the country. In the run-up to the elections in the last six months, I personally addressed at least two and a half million people through rallies and meetings across the length and breadth of South Africa. It was moving to observe how the name and reputation of our movement lived in even the remotest rural areas."

Zuma: The president has a delightful common touch and the first term of his administration revealed this as he allowed the nation to let its hair down after the wrought years of the Mbeki presidency.

Reuters Photographer / Reuters
Former South African President Nelson Mandela, President Thabo Mbeki (C) and Deputy President Jacob Zuma (R) dance during an ANC elections campaign rally in Soweto at a stadium near Johannesburg April 4,2004. Mbeki's African National Congress is expected to retain its huge parliamentary majority in the April 14 election, the third since white rule ended in 1994. REUTERS/Juda Ngwenya

But today, Zuma's public appearances must be carefully choreographed as the President often feels besieged by his people. He does not move, even within the precinct of an ANC gathering, without a phalanx of 22 bodyguards when I last counted them.

Mandela's book reveals his minders found him a nightmare as he often wandered off without them to talk to people wherever he liked.

Zuma has made the circle smaller, taking counsel from a smaller and smaller coterie of loyalists in his Cabinet and in various kitchen cabinets. This has not served the nation well.

After being publicly booed at Mandela's memorial at Nasrec, Zuma's minders allow very little spontaneous meeting with ordinary people for fear of how they might react. Instead, the president is more likely to be found addressing only his guaranteed supporters in carefully managed ANC cadres forums.

Stepping outside convention

Mandela: Langa writes about Mandela: "Mandela's tendency to canvass for views outside conventional circles was perhaps controversial. He didn't hesitate to call to a meeting anyone he deemed suitable to throw light onto a subject. These could be ministers, representatives or leaders of sectors of society, or even heads of state."

Zuma: The president has made the circle smaller, taking counsel from a smaller and smaller coterie of loyalists in his Cabinet and in various kitchen cabinets. This has not served the nation well as the economy has tanked and the only interesting things the state is doing is in science and technology, in which the president takes little interest.

DAVE CHAN via Getty Images
OTTAWA, CANADA: South African President Nelson Mandela kisses Lekgetho Makena, a local resident, on the hand 23 September during a welcoming ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Canada. Mandela and his wife Graca Machel (background) are on a three-day state visit to Canada. AFP PHOTO Dave CHAN/dc (Photo credit should read DAVE CHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Cabinetmaking

Mandela: Langa writes about the Mandela era: "The appointment of ANC ministers was not informed by caprice. These were people who had acquitted themselves admirably in their various leadership duties in structures at home and in exile. However, there was still a lot of vetting before a name could be given a green light."

Zuma: The president's 13th Cabinet reshuffle in October was one of caprice and, informed, arguably, by greed. In fact, reshuffles numbers seven to 13 have largely been irrational actions where the golden thread of political sense was missing. The appointment of David Mahlobo as Minister of Energy is widely seen as an effort to ram through the nuclear deal from which lucrative commissions may stem. There are some highly talented people in the SA cabinet, but for the most part, they are complements of no-name brands and obscure provincial appointments recommended by the President's kitchen cabinets.

Reuters Photographer / Reuters
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greets residents of Mmabatho March 15, 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. SCANNED FROM NEGATIVE. REUTERS/Howard Burditt HB/CMC/PN

The use of deputy ministers

Mandela: This president used the positions of deputy ministers to build national unity. They often came from opposition political parties or from the ranks of coloureds, Indians or whites in order to give effect and meaning to diversity.

Zuma: The president has ballooned his executive to 39 deputy ministers and he uses these choices to install personal loyalists into powerful positions to bolster and protect him when he faces internal ANC challenges.

The national question: race

Mandela: Langa writes that Mandela spent a lot of time thinking about "How are the interests of the different national groups to be accommodated within non-racial unity? The liberation struggle, which has been fought for eight decades in our country, was underpinned by deep thought and searching for answers to questions about the nature of our society."

AFP/Getty Images
President Jacob Zuma arriving at a Transnet depot days after firing Pravin Gordhan as finance minister, surrounded by bodyguards. The media were kept away from him on this particular occasion.

Zuma: While Zuma's formal speeches favour non-racialism and unity, in two cadres forums late last year, he took a very different tone implying that the ANC did not have power because it does not have its levers on the hands of economic power. This is a popular view, but it also underpins the fact that in eight years of being president, he did not significantly grow wealth nor alter the patterns of its distribution.

In November 2016 at a cadres forum, Zuma said: "In the whole world, whether you go to India you will find Indians in charge of their economy, if you go to China the Chinese are in charge of their economy, if you go to America the Americans are in charge of their economy, it is the same with the English, Germans and anywhere else including here in Africa. If you go to any African country, Africans are running their economies. It is only here in SA where people indigenous to the country are not in charge of the economy. That would be us."

And while Mandela reflected in office on what to do with power at various levels, Zuma's understanding of it as evinced at a cadres forum last November is far more crude.

And while Mandela reflected in office on what to do with power at various levels, Zuma's understanding of it as evinced at a cadres forum last November is far more crude as it fails to equate any value to state power which is significant.

"A state has three pillars which support it. Political power, which we have, enables you to win elections. You can write the law with this power and run the country. The second pillar is money matters or the economy. The third pillar is defending the country or what is called the security of the country," Zuma said.

Those in charge of the economy, try to influence those with political power. Unfortunately, those who have political power have that alone, you cannot eat political power.Jacob Zuma at an ANC cadres' forum.

"If you have not properly grasped all three, your power has an expiry date. It will start to weaken...This is what leads to what happens after 20 years where things change and political power can no longer grow. If you have political power but do not control the economy, it means that there are people who are in charge of something serious.

"Those in charge of the economy, try to influence those with political power. Unfortunately, those who have political power have that alone, you cannot eat political power. Those in charge of the economy have something they can actually eat."

AFP/Getty Images
President Nelson Mandela of South Africa is flanked by his deputy Thabo Mbeki (L) and African National Congress (ANC) National Chairman Jacob Zuma at the ANC's 50th National Congress at Northwest University in Mmabato, northwest of Johannesburg, 16 December 1997. At this conference, Mandela will be stepping down as the president of the ANC and leaving the presidency to Mbeki. / AFP / WALTER DHLADHLA (Photo credit should read WALTER DHLADHLA/AFP/Getty Images)

The nature of humankind and the role of leaders

Mandela: As president, he believed in the innate goodness of human beings. "During my political career, I have discovered that in all communities, African, coloured, Indian and white, and in all political organisation without exception, there are good men and women who fervently wish to go on with their lives, who year for peace and stability, who want a decent income, good houses, and to send their children to the best schools, who respect and want to maintain the social fabric of society.

"Good leaders fully appreciate that the removal of tensions in society, of whatever nature, puts creative thinkers on centre stage by creating an ideal environment for men and women of vision to influence society.

Zuma's is now a presidency built on tension and mutual suspicion. Clear thinking and good planning are in sparse supply.

"Extremists, on the other hand, thrive on tension and mutual suspicion. Clear thinking and good planning was never their weapon."

Zuma: With his jolly laugh and his ability to fit in anywhere, it can be argued that Zuma shared Mandela's view on the nature of humankind. And by encouraging and funding the National Planning Commission, he showed support for "men and women of vision to influence society".

Universal History Archive via Getty Images
Nelson Mandela, President of South Africa, addressing the UN General Assembly. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty images)

But as his second term deepened, Zuma's view began to change: many of his more important and less scripted speeches reveal great fear as if he is under threat from forces out of his control. His worldview became far more Hobbesian – grim and fearful.

His Cabinet changes have reinforced this view as the President sought to surround himself with loyalists. To borrow a phrase from Mandela, Zuma's is now a presidency built on tension and mutual suspicion. Clear thinking and good planning are in sparse supply as an economy in free fall and constantly changing national executive team reveals.