Sunday World

All of us helped co-create Zuma

South Africans fell in love with his seemingly boundless energy

- Tinyiko Maluleke • Professor Maluleke is a senior research fellow at the University of Pretoria Centre for the Advancemen­t of Scholarshi­p. Follow him on Twitter @Proftinyik­o

If Nelson Mandela sculpted the very scaffoldin­g upon which democratic South Africa rests, then Thabo Mbeki was the wordsmith whose turn of phrase once put us in a trance, during which we dreamt of the people that we could become. Kgalema Motlanthe was John the Baptist, the preparer of the way, for a period of seven months.

And along came Jacob Gedleyihle­kisa Zuma – described by his biographer Jeremy Gordin as “an impoverish­ed son of the soil from a family of peasants” who grew up herding cattle and tending goats.

In 2009, he became our Teflon president, known for his ability to employ and deploy his struggle credential­s through rhythm, song and the occasional gaffe.

In the process, Zuma gained the fame of being phunyuka bemphethe – a moniker that spoke to the legend of his ability to escape from his enemies both during his time as an ANC undergroun­d operative and in recent times. On Wednesday night, at the last minute, he turned himself in to the correction­al facility in Escourt, where he is incarcerat­ed.

The ANC played a huge part in creating the Zuma we have come to know and one Mbeki had an even bigger part in. In 1997, when Mbeki had the choice between Winnie Madikizela-mandela or Zuma as ANC deputy president, his choice for the latter was transparen­t – and the conference delegates took the cue.

Even when Mbeki relieved Zuma of the position of deputy president of the country in 2005, he also noted that “personally, I continue to hold the Hon Jacob Zuma in high regard… We have worked together under difficult and challengin­g conditions for thirty years”.

But Zuma came back to engineer the Mbeki recall in 2008.

Zuma is not merely a product of his life circumstan­ces, his involvemen­t in the struggle or his comradely relationsh­ip with Mbeki. Together with the ANC, South Africans are co-creators of the Zuma we have come to know.

In the mid-2000s, Zuma drove many South Africans crazy with admiration. To many, he was the man who would save the country from the “96 class project” and from the aloof intellectu­alism of Mbeki. Today, when young MKVA veterans vow to lay their lives down for Zuma, they are not being original. In 2014, then minister Nomvula Mokonyane famously announced that cabinet members would defend Zuma with their buttocks.

Zwelinzima Vavi, as general secretary of Cosatu and Julius Malema, as the newly elected ANC Youth League president, vowed not only to die for Zuma but to kill for him, in 2008.

Curiously, it seems that whatever their fallouts, Malema cannot help gravitate back to the bosom of Zuma.

Around 2008, Zuma had almost total control of all the structures of both the ANC and its alliance partners – a feat no other ANC president has ever achieved. Zuma subsequent­ly led the ANC to huge election victories in both 2009 and 2014, albeit below the two-thirds majority of the Mbeki years. And that is where South Africans come in.

There is no other way of saying this: South Africa fell in love not just with the ANC but also with Zuma. South Africans fell in love with the story of a simple, self-educated, self-made, shamelessl­y African rural man, who, having lost his policeman father at four, rose to the helm of the most popular political organisati­on in the history of the country.

South Africans fell in love with his deep belly laughter, his extroverte­d joviality, his dance prowess and boundless energy.

In the clarity and diction of his singing voice, South Africans imagined a bright and beautiful future. No president has tugged at the heartstrin­gs of South Africans the way Zuma did.

Not since Mandela. Admittedly, some love to hate Zuma. But even that is a form of love, albeit inverted.

Of course, Zuma is not and has never been loved by everyone. No. His foibles were always in our faces. Even judge Willem van der Merwe, when handing down the rape acquittal for Zuma in 2006, read out a poem in which he basically said to Zuma, “grow up, man”. The amazing thing, however, is how a man with known and publicly flaunted frailties, a man mired in many corruption allegation­s for the longest time, still managed to lead the ANC to two +60% election victories.

I wish to suggest that Zuma lives not only in Nkandla, but in the consciousn­ess and imaginatio­n of many South Africans. As he languishes in jail, South Africans need to engage in serious introspect­ion so they may exorcise the Zuma inside of them.

 ??  ?? The governing ANC played a huge part in creating the Zuma we know ... but so did the rest of us.
The governing ANC played a huge part in creating the Zuma we know ... but so did the rest of us.
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