Rebranding of tainted Zuma should be rejected with the contempt it deserves
Five years ago, I got into trouble with some readers of Business Day for complaining that South Africans too readily subscribe to the mantra, “Don’t speak ill of the dead.” This was after the demise of Louis Luyt, whose obituaries highlighted his rise from fertiliser salesman to rugby administrator and glossed over his role as apartheid propagandist.
Forgive and forget: two dangerous words when it comes to politicians.
If the rebranding of Jacob Zuma is anything to go by, however, the Zuma camp is quite confident that South Africans don’t have to wait for someone to die before they are willing to forgive and forget. The man who used to be public enemy number one is now being presented to us as a social media sage, a default member of the pantheon of ANC stalwarts, and (God help us) a recording artist.
This is all depressingly predictable, not least because of the intersection with an election year, the governing party’s absurd “unity” campaign and the transparent tactics of the Zuma faction to undermine Cyril Ramaphosa. It also seems Zuma’s network of patronage not only still has some power, but also has some dirt on Ramaphosa and the “good” people in the ANC who stayed quiet and played the long game during Zuma’s presidency.
Photographs of Ramaphosa smiling broadly with Zuma rankle everyone who isn’t a fool or a toady. Yes, Ramaphosa has to shore up support in KwaZulu-Natal. Yes, he needs to secure a solid victory for the ANC in the 2019 elections. The tainted votes of Zumaites and those they influence are just as valuable as the votes of those who may now return to the party.
That doesn’t make the strategy any less sordid. Ramaphosa is sullied, compromised. Still, he has enough credit to carry him through this necessary humiliation; he’ll pay such dues if it means he’ll have five years, maybe 10, to clean up party and state. That’s the theory, anyway.
But the rest of us — we don’t have to be complicit. We don’t have to play Zuma’s game. And those of us with an investment in the arts and culture sector, whether as creative producers or as consumers, sure as hell don’t have to accept his arrogation of an unearned corner of real estate on the SA arts landscape.
It’s bad enough that a new chapter entitled “Zuma monuments” could be added to the pitiful history of the ANC — and state-commissioned statues. The former president’s visage adorns that curious monstrosity in Groot Marico marking the site of his capture in 1963. There is a large-scale statue of Msholozi that is mercifully far away in Nigeria (where it is deeply resented by the locals). Now a bronze Zuma stands alongside the M4 highway in Durban.
Well, we are told that it is Zuma, just as we are told that the figure next to him is Thabo Mbeki. Sculptor Lungelo Gumede had it easier with Ramaphosa and Nelson Mandela, who flank the group; they are clumsy but vaguely recognisable. As for the Zuma and Mbeki statues — let’s just say that the unlikeness is canny. There are other icons on display to celebrate the party’s 107th anniversary, and more statues have been commissioned for outlandish sums.
To be clear: it is not wrong to spend public money on art. But it is wrong to waste millions on bad art for a bad cause (in this case, the ANC’s speciality of recruiting past glory to distract from present failings).
Not satisfied with shoddy statues, eThekwini head of parks, recreation and culture Thembinkosi Ngcobo is also preparing the way for Zuma’s professional singing career.
The former president is due to front an album of struggle songs, and Ngcobo’s latest coup is getting Ladysmith Black Mambazo to provide backing vocals.
Apparently the group’s founder and musical director, Joseph Shabalala, is an old friend of JZ. I don’t care. By linking its strong, global brand to Zuma, Mambazo is insulting the people of SA and colluding in an attempt to sanitise the reputation of a wicked man.
Zuma should be in a prison cell, not a recording studio.
Born to sing: Jacob Zuma sings the infamous ‘Umshini wam’ at the Atteridgeville Super Stadium in Tshwane. when he was still ANC president.