What the bar­rack­ing of the pres­i­dent por­tends for next year’s polls

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES - PETER FABRI­CIUS

PRES­I­DENT Ja­cob Zuma told for­eign lead­ers and diplo­mats on Wed­nes­day that Nel­son Man­dela had once said that the first thing he would do on ar­rival in heaven would be to join the heavenly ANC branch.

“And if he did not find one, he would quickly es­tab­lish one,” Zuma said at a re­cep­tion in Pre­to­ria for those lead­ers who had stayed on in South Africa af­ter Man­dela’s me­mo­rial ser­vice at the FNB Sta­dium on Tues­day, to view his body ly­ing in state at the Union Build­ings.

In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions and Co­op­er­a­tion Min­is­ter Maite NkoanaMasha­bane had just said much the same thing, jok­ing that Man­dela was even now form­ing a quo­rum to es­tab­lish that ANC branch in the clouds.

Zuma then gave the for­eign­ers a long ac­count of Man­dela’s his­tory in the ANC to show how in­te­gral it was to his life and vice versa.

The day be­fore at the FNB Sta­dium, US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama had cap­ti­vated the crowd – and up­staged Zuma – with a rous­ing speech that dwelt on the lessons Man­dela’s life had to of­fer the rest of us, him­self no­tably in­cluded.

But a day later Zuma was say­ing, yes, Man­dela had been a men­tor to those who fol­lowed him; how­ever, he had also been a pro­tégé of those ANC lead­ers who had pre­ceded him. In other words, Zuma seemed to be say­ing that the ANC was larger than Man­dela. Maybe he was also say­ing: “Obama might be a fine or­a­tor, but he doesn’t know Man­dela like I know Man­dela.”

He closed by telling the for­eign lead­ers that by com­ing to South Africa, they had given them­selves the op­por­tu­nity “to ex­press con­do­lences to the Man­dela fam­ily but also his larger fam­ily, the ANC”.

The lead­ers and diplo­mats seemed rather be­mused at the his­tory les­son and the no­tion that they had come to South Africa to con­vey con­do­lences to the ANC.

It seemed in­ap­pro­pri­ate for Zuma to be speak­ing to a for­eign au­di­ence, in ef­fect, as ANC pres­i­dent rather than as the na­tional pres­i­dent. Per­haps, though, his re­marks were di­rected more at the lo­cal TV cam­eras and jour­nal­ists than at the for­eign­ers.

This is a mes­sage that the ANC lead­er­ship seem ea­ger to con­vey to South Africans ahead of next year’s elec­tions: Man­dela was ours and re­mains ours. So, hands off. In the same way that his fam­ily has been bat­tling over Man­dela’s com­mer­cial legacy, so politi­cians have been jostling over his po­lit­i­cal legacy.

Some time back, the DA put out ad­ver­tise­ments claim­ing that it was a more de­serv­ing heir to the Man­dela legacy than to­day’s ANC, wracked as it is by crony­ism, ten­der­preneur­ship and cor­rup­tion.

How­ever, if Zuma did in­tend Wed­nes­day’s mes­sage pri­mar­ily for for­eign ears, per­haps his in­ten­tion was to re­gain some of the con­sid­er­able face he lost in the eyes of the world when large parts of the crowd at the FNB Sta­dium booed him sev­eral times. That boo­ing – which came as a great shock to for­eign­ers and lo­cals – had the ef­fect of fray­ing that vi­tal um­bil­i­cal cord be­tween Man­dela, the ANC and Zuma, that Zuma and the ANC claim.

If a large part of a crowd that came to hon­our Man­dela also dis­hon­oured Zuma, his suc­ces­sor at the helm of the ANC, what mes­sage did that con­vey about the ANC as Man- dela’s party? The mes­sage from the bleachers seemed to be, “The ANC is no longer the party of Man­dela”.

It could al­most be read as say­ing, “Stop try­ing to ex­pro­pri­ate him. Man­dela is not yours. He be­longs to all of us.”

Of course, we will never know for sure what the in­tended mes­sage was, or even who de­liv­ered it. A soc­cer sta­dium crowd does not have a col­lec­tive mind and there­fore a com­mon in­ten­tion. ANC of­fi­cials have tried to ex­plain that the boo­ing was or­ches­trated by Julius Malema’s newly formed Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers (EFF). How they know that is un­clear. But the fact that the crowd gave a loud cheer when Zimbabwean Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe’s face ap­peared on the gi­ant TV screen sug­gests they may be right, since Malema is a known Mu­gabe fan.

But would Mu­gabe fans also ap­plaud Obama? That seems a con­tra­dic­tion, but who said hu­mans are con­sis­tent?

Another in­ter­pre­ta­tion is that the boo­ing came from ANC vot­ers newly disen­chanted by the Nkand­la­gate scan­dal, among oth­ers. In a sense the dis­tinc­tion is rather aca­demic, since the EFF sup­port­ers are mostly dis­af­fected ANC sup­port­ers any­way.

It was the sheer vol­ume of dis­sent, though, which must have alarmed ANC lead­ers about the por­tents for next year’s elec­tion.

AgangSA leader Mam­phela Ram­phele, who was in the sta­dium, sug­gested that the boo­ing was a “tip­ping point” in the ANC’s for­tunes, and that the “boo­ers” were ANC sup­port­ers (or erst­while sup­port­ers) ex­press­ing their dis­sent in this anony­mous way be­cause their party no longer brooked real de­bate.

Of course, as a ri­val politi­cian she would say that. But there might have been a grain of truth in it.

No mat­ter what anal­y­sis might re­veal about who booed and why, one thing is clear – most of the boo­ing was aimed at Zuma. That is wor­ry­ing for both him and his party.

Zuma’s ad­dress on Wed­nes­day seemed to be part of a re­newed ef­fort to re­pair the vi­tal um­bil­i­cal cord link­ing him and his party to the Madiba magic.

Whether that can be done by dwelling on the his­tor­i­cal con­nec­tions be­tween Man­dela and the ANC, rather than by demon­strat­ing that the ANC is ac­tu­ally liv­ing Man­dela’s val­ues to­day is the ques­tion that per­haps only the elec­tions will be­gin to an­swer.

As Obama said of Man­dela in his speech on Tues­day: “He tells us what’s pos­si­ble not just in the pages of dusty his­tory books, but in our own lives as well.”

Madiba’s death is a time of mourn­ing, and a time to cel­e­brate his heroic life. But it should also prompt in each of us a time for sel­f­re­flec­tion.

PIC­TURE: GCIS

UP­STAGED: Barack Obama’s trib­ute dwelt on the lessons from Man­dela’s life, while Ja­cob Zuma tried to claim his po­lit­i­cal legacy.

TIP­PING POINT: AgangSA leader Mam­phela Ram­phele

HEAD IN THE CLOUDS: Min­is­ter Maite Nkoana-Masha­bane

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