Of stress and political points
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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