Is JZ an amoral pres­i­dent?

Be­fore we can talk rad­i­cal eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion, Pres­i­dent Zuma must look within him­self and ex­am­ine if he is to lead this coun­try

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On March 15, Good Gov­er­nance Africa launched its Voter Sen­ti­ment Sur­vey on why South Africans voted the way they did in the 2016 mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions. By ab­stain­ing or vot­ing for other par­ties, tol­er­ant cit­i­zens fi­nally seemed to fire a shot across the bow of the ship of state cap­ture.

I re­ferred to Shake­speare’s cel­e­brated sooth­sayer’s “Be­ware the Ides of March” lines in Julius Cae­sar – “the Ides of March are come. Aye Cae­sar, but not gone” – to cau­tion lead­ers to rem­edy bad gov­er­nance. Some thought that this was face­tious. Af­ter all, what do the clas­sics have to do with con­tem­po­rary life?

What we do know is that the frus­tra­tion of the Se­nate and the peo­ple of Rome was suf­fi­ciently fu­elled to turn their knives on a leader who, once revered, had be­come a tyrant. This en­counter marked a key tran­si­tion for Rome, the un­de­ni­able world su­per­power, from re­pub­lic to em­pire. It was not a triv­ial event, for it had seis­mic geopo­lit­i­cal, so­cial and eco­nomic ram­i­fi­ca­tions that ripped through the so­ci­ety of the times.

His­tory re­peats it­self, so the say­ing goes. Fast for­ward to South Africa, circa 2 000 years later. Not quite a global su­per­power, the coun­try re­mains a re­gional and a con­ti­nen­tal pow­er­house. It is there­fore sig­nif­i­cant that the demo­crat­i­cally elected pres­i­dent has cho­sen a some­what “un­pres­i­den­tial” path to fol­low. Rather than the Se­nate turn­ing their knives on Cae­sar, Cae­sar ap­pears to have turned his on the Se­nate.

Fo­cused re­flec­tion might help us to nav­i­gate the waters ahead. Ac­cord­ingly, the broader ar­gu­ment sur­round­ing the cur­rent cri­sis has been lim­ited to just one con­sid­er­a­tion: pres­i­den­tial moral­ity. What if, in­stead of count­ing good and bad ap­ples, we un­der­took some anal­y­sis of a sin­gle in­di­vid­ual, namely the pres­i­dent of the Re­pub­lic of South Africa, Ja­cob Ged­ley­ih­lek­isa Zuma?

Some say that this is the story of a good man gone bad, oth­ers that power cor­rupts, and yet oth­ers say that much more sin­is­ter forces are at play. Friedrich Ni­et­zsche, the con­tro­ver­sial 19th cen­tury Ger­man writer, re­ferred to the “eter­nal re­cur­rence of the same”. Draw­ing on classical philol­ogy, he gave some cre­dence to the no­tion that his­tory does in­deed re­peat it­self.

With his Will to Power, Ni­et­zsche pro­vided a car­i­ca­ture of the “su­per­man”, that spec­i­men of the mas­ter race who would ac­ti­vate and self-af­firm at all costs. The tra­di­tional moral cat­e­gories would no longer do. The words ut­tered by his prophet Zarathus­tra, “God is dead”, sig­nal a move beyond good and evil, past the moral and the im­moral, to the amoral, a realm in which moral rea­son­ing and virtue are ob­so­lete.

Don’t look for the neat black curl or the red cape and span­dex, this su­per­man is rather more ruth­less. He will crush the weak and smite those who get in the way of his in­ter­ests and those of his group. The rest of us are slaves, forced to yield to this dev­as­tat­ing, bar­rel-bomb­ing power. Any ex­pec­ta­tion of moral re­spon­si­bil­ity is as ab­surd as ask­ing the ques­tion, “What is your favourite ce­real?” and get­ting the an­swer, “tele­vi­sion”.

De­spite the var­ied and deep po­lit­i­cal de­bates rag­ing about like wild­fires, what if the en­tire is­sue rested on a sin­gle premise: Is Ja­cob Zuma amoral?

The man tasked with the Moral Re­gen­er­a­tion Move­ment, who in 2002 in­formed Par­lia­ment that this was “tak­ing root at ev­ery level”, was dis­missed less than three years later as deputy pres­i­dent and faced 783 counts of cor­rup­tion.

De­spite be­ing a “pas­tor”, he stood ac­cused of rap­ing (he was later ac­quit­ted) the daugh­ter of one friend and fa­ther­ing the child of another. In the for­mer case, the depth of his re­spon­si­bil­ity (if noth­ing else) was that he show­ered af­ter his li­bid­i­nal en­counter, know­ing that she was HIV pos­i­tive. She died just a few months ago. In the lat­ter, the pres­i­dent apol­o­gised for his ex­tra­mar­i­tal trans­gres­sions only af­ter the mat­ter be­came pub­lic.

Then there’s the or­bital is­sue of Nkandla. A R246 mil­lion spend of tax­pay­ers’ money on a pala­tial homestead. Fi­nally un­der­tak­ing to pay back a frac­tion of the small change, only un­der duress, Zuma vented his frus­tra­tions at the par­lia­men­tary lectern, “Nkandla. Nkaaaaaandla”, as if it was just a nui­sance.

More head­shak­ing and a laugh. Could amoral­ity al­low one to do that – laugh it off and move on?

Sev­eral stal­warts have re­ferred to the pres­i­dent’s loss of his “moral com­pass”, but how can one lose what one does not have? Traits that may have served well for a chief of “un­der­ground struc­tures” and “in­tel­li­gence” are not quite as de­sir­able for a pub­lic ser­vant with for­mi­da­ble power. A pres­i­dent de­rives this ti­tle from pre­sid­ing. The antonyms for “pre­side” in­clude: em­ployee, sub­or­di­nate, aide, tail, acolyte. Who is pre­sid­ing, who is tail­ing and whose in­ter­ests dic­tate?

A help­ful re­al­ity check, al­beit some­what de­press­ing, is that ap­peal­ing to in­di­vid­ual good­will and the com­mon good will not work. Re­mem­ber, the amoral char­ac­ter lies beyond good and evil. This would be like try­ing to pla­cate a hun­gry child with a stone.

The con­fused cat­e­gories sim­ply don’t work. De­spite at­tempts to re­sus­ci­tate the con­science of the pres­i­dent, in­clud­ing de­fib­ril­la­tion by busi­ness, civil so­ci­ety and gov­ern­ment it­self, there ap­pears to be no sign of life. This would not be sur­pris­ing, if in­deed Zuma were to be con­sid­ered amoral.

How might we re­spond to the dilemma of a leader who lies out­side of the known moral uni­verse?

“One and the same is the knowl­edge of op­po­sites,” an old pro­fes­sor once chanted, quot­ing Aquinas who drew on Aris­to­tle. If the chal­lenge re­volves around the amoral, then a re­sponse lies in im­plor­ing those who are not amoral, who are not suck­ing the mar­row out of an al­ready dry bone, to come for­ward, and to do so rapidly, in num­bers and sus­tain­ably.

It is ironic that a seem­ingly amoral pres­i­dent sud­denly has a new-found de­sire for “rad­i­cal eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion”.

De­spite the se­duc­tive ap­peal to the youth, the un­em­ployed and the grow­ing poor who de­pend on sup­port grants, the re­al­ity is less sexy. The first trans­for­ma­tion needed is metanoia, change of heart. How about a rad­i­cal moral trans­for­ma­tion, then, and that ever elu­sive moral re­gen­er­a­tion move­ment, even? Tschudin is the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Good Gov­er­nance Africa his week another work by South Africa’s best­known car­toon­ist, Zapiro, real name Jonathan Shapiro, hurt many. For the fourth time, he used one of the most vi­o­lent and dis­gust­ing crimes, rape, as satire – he calls it “metaphor” – to drive home a mes­sage about his feel­ings to­wards Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma, the Gupta fam­ily and at­tempts at state cap­ture.

In the car­toon a woman is held down as Zuma zips up his pants, af­ter “rap­ing” South Africa – as rep­re­sented by a black woman clad in our na­tional flag. Zuma then tells a Gupta brother: “She’s all yours, boss!”

The sight of the car­toon was nau­se­at­ing. I felt stripped naked. While I might not have been raped, I was fac­ing my big­gest fear – one I walk around with daily, whether I am in pub­lic or at home.

Rape is a crime that Zapiro doesn’t sta­tis­ti­cally have to worry about. Yes, men are raped as well, it’s a se­ri­ous re­al­ity; yet, men prob­a­bly don’t con­struct their en­tire lives and daily de­ci­sions around the fear of rape, as­sault or ha­rass­ment.

It is black women who bear the brunt of the in­ter­sec­tional strug­gles in this coun­try. Zapiro’s in­sis­tence on fur­ther trau­ma­tis­ing black women in his work adds to the prob­lem. It doesn’t lessen it. And his in­sis­tence on show­ing black men as rapists just en­trenches the tropes around rape.

The nor­mal­i­sa­tion of rape by unimag­i­na­tive artists such as Zapiro, who deem their art more im­por­tant than the hu­man­ity of oth­ers, in­vokes painful mem­o­ries for so many women and men in our coun­try. This re­al­ity over­rides any depth or irony in this satire of his.

In my opin­ion, he’s able to de­liver only one note with his work. He lacks the so­phis­ti­ca­tion of a real artist and he in no way speaks the same lan­guage as the new gen­er­a­tion of South Africans. To us it looks like Zapiro’s work is all about him and his fame. Ev­ery time he does one of these rape car­toons, he trends on so­cial me­dia and is all over the news.

And his de­fence of his work is gen­er­ally puerile. He says it was hard for him to draw this car­toon. Shame, poor Zapiro. Al­most as bad as be­ing sex­u­ally as­saulted?

This car­toon­ist uses the power of his pen and his male priv­i­lege to con­stantly im­per­son­alise is­sues, say­ing: “It isn’t ac­tu­ally graphic in the sense that it does every­thing by sug­ges­tion, and noth­ing by be­ing lewd or overly graphic. I would also chal­lenge peo­ple to look at the car­toon and see whom they em­pathise with. Do they em­pathise with any of the per­pe­tra­tors hold­ing the metaphor­i­cal per­son down, that is, South Africa, or do they em­pathise with the metaphor­i­cal per­son? There’s noth­ing in the draw­ing that en­joys or rev­els in the idea of rape or gang rape.” That’s not the re­sponse rape sur­vivors had on so­cial me­dia this week.

Why is it so easy for Zapiro to en­act vi­o­lence – metaphor­i­cally and other­wise – on black women’s bod­ies with­out any con­se­quence? Why was the dig­nity of women and men who have been raped com­pared to the cur­rent state of af­fairs in the coun­try? How dare some of you think there are de­grees to sex­ual vi­o­lence and that any­thing can be com­pared to a vi­cious dis­em­pow­er­ing act such as rape?

Us­ing the bru­tal im­age of rape as a metaphor in it­self is an act of vi­o­lence by Zapiro; it both makes light of and per­pet­u­ates rape cul­ture. It takes away from the se­ri­ous­ness of the crime and the work that those that have been raped put into find­ing some sort of peace.

It’s easy to use some­thing that will prob­a­bly never hap­pen to you as a metaphor to cre­ate shock and to build your fame, but who ex­actly is sup­posed to be shocked? One in ev­ery four women will suf­fer rape in their life­time – a crime that’s no­to­ri­ously un­der­re­ported. And Zapiro says this is an ap­pro­pri­ate metaphor to shock peo­ple with? He should pack it up al­ready.


BOOGIE MAN Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma dur­ing a re­ply on the bud­get de­bate in the Na­tional Assem­bly. The writer be­lieves Zuma is too morally bank­rupt to be pres­i­dent of the coun­try

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