Of stress and po­lit­i­cal points

Sunday World - - Opinion -

TO pen this ar­ti­cle, I woke up at a lit­tle af­ter 3am on the day I was to sub­mit it.

That was ac­tu­ally late. I usu­ally wake up at about 1.30am to work when­ever I have tight dead­lines. No mat­ter how much time I might have had be­fore some or other dead­line, it is usu­ally at the very last minute that I be­gin to panic about miss­ing it, and get down to work.

Even then, I stress about how to ap­proach the work, I stress about the choice of words. The loud tick­ing of the clock on the wall – even though I don ’ t do any­thing about it – ir­ri­tates me. The cof­fee is ei­ther too sweet or too weak.

I stress and stress un­til, re­mark­ably, there are about a thou­sand words of near per­fect prose on my screen.

Ap­par­ently I am not alone. Writ­ing about stress in the Fi­nan­cial Times re­cently, Pro­fes­sor Katie Roiphe of New York Univer­sity said: “There is a par­tic­u­lar vi­tal­ity in anx­i­ety, a sort of nervy power that one can ’ t say is fun, ex­actly, but is nonethe­less slightly ad­dic­tive.

“It can be pro­duc­tive, in a crash­ing way. It gives us a feel­ing of mo­tion, of mo­men­tum, of wheels turn­ing. One gets used to it, maybe seeks it out.”

What she is talk­ing about, says Roiphe, is “the speedy, high-strung form of anx­i­ety, the mind rac­ing through a mil­lion thoughts and wor­ries and am­bi­tions and fears ”.

And so, in­evitably, I imag­ine, I be­gan ask­ing my­self ques­tions about what, if any­thing, stresses Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma in par­tic­u­lar, and our Zu­mas in gen­eral (Zu­mas, in this case, be­ing the noun for the col­lec­tive lead­er­ship of the ANC).

Of course, I have to look at the ANC for the ob­vi­ous rea­son that it is and has been the rul­ing party since 1994.

We must also re­mem­ber how much was in­vested by the ma­jor­ity in this coun­try, in the ANC when it was a lib­er­a­tion move­ment, and how, as we have seen, many still con­tinue to have faith in it as the rul­ing party.

We must re­call, also, that no less than 62.65% of the elec­torate gave the ANC of Nel­son Man­dela the man­date to gov­ern in 1994, and that that fig­ure in­creased to 66.4% in 1999 when Thabo Mbeki took over the ba­ton from the great man, and dropped slightly to 65.9% when our af­fa­ble, smile-a-minute man from Nkandla be­came pres­i­dent.

In fact, I read some­where that the thing that ac­counts for Zuma ’ s jovial bent and easy laugh­ter is that

“heart ” of his, which “has no bag­gage ”– what­ever that means.

But, yes, the man does in­deed ap­pear to be stress-free, no?

Re­mem­ber the en­ergy with which he used to sing and dance to Umshini Wami dur­ing his rape trial?

See also how he continues to be the epit­ome of calm and easy com­port­ment in the face of the storm from in­flu­en­tial sec­tors of South African so­ci­ety, not to men­tion the op­po­si­tion par­ties, af­ter Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor Thuli Madon­sela ’ s re­port on Nkandla.

The man is just un­per­turbed, and so, it would seem, are his clos­est lieu­tenants in govern­ment and at Luthuli House.

Yet, as Roiphe asks: “[ Is] there some­thing vaguely bovine, dull, about the state of be­ing un­stressed? Is there some­thing slow, un­fruit­ful, stag­nant or dense about calm?”

Def­i­nitely there is some­thing not only “slow, un­fruit­ful, stag­nant ”, but also acutely painful about what we per­ceive, rightly or wrongly, to be a lack of stress where our Zu­mas are con­cerned.

It was in 2004 when Mbeki, be­fore he was re­called as pres­i­dent in 2008, de­clared: “By the end of this year (2004), we shall en­sure that there is no learner learn­ing un­der a tree.”

A decade later, and in Lim­popo and the East­ern Cape, in par­tic­u­lar, chil­dren are still learn­ing un­der trees or in mud schools.

How many RDP houses have been built, how many people now have toi­lets that flush, how many blah, blah, blah?

That is what hap­pens when people are not stressed, you see; they see no evil, hear no evil, and so can ’ t act be­cause they are deaf and blind, and ap­par­ently not stressed by it.

I still re­mem­ber how we laughed – not with­out bit­ter­ness – dur­ing the 2009 elec­tion cam­paigns when we learnt from news­pa­per re­ports that the then Gaut­eng pre­mier, Paul Mashatile, was “shocked ” by the con­di­tions un­der which mainly black work­ers daily com­muted to and from work in Metro­rail trains.

“And this from a boy who grew up in Alexan­dra?” ex­claimed one of our friends who re­turned to the coun­try from about 15 years of ex­ile with the ANC in 1990.

“Is he telling us that he didn ’ t know? That he never, never knew? Come on, inga­zod­lala ngathi iANC.”

Yet, is that not ac­tu­ally what the Zu­mas in­vari­ably do when not stressed – play mon­key games?

Makube is a Joburg-based writer and a for­mer mag­a­zine edi­tor.

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