This week our president made a jaw-dropping claim: loyalty to the ANC (the ruling party), he glibly remarked, is more important than loyalty to the country. My initial response, after the shock and anger wore off, was a pragmatic one: in the interests of ANC public (local and international) relations somebody should probably tell our president that he is probably better off keeping his mouth closed, that he ought to give serious consideration to letting somebody else write his speeches. It seems that very often these days that when he opens his mouth he changes feet.
And then a truly horrifying revelation fought for space in my consciousness: somebody else probably does write his speeches. Either that statement was a deliberately constructed political gambit (which would indicate a terrifying arrogance and should be an insult to the intelligence of educated voters), or the president blatantly disregarded the advice of his counsellors, which would point to what should be an equally terrifying megalomania and egocentrism. Either way, there is enough in that one inciteful comment to cause real concern. When you couple that with a proposed expenditure of about $4 billion on a private jet (and this fresh in the wake of the Nkandla scandal), it is hard to ignore the probability that we are dealing with a potential despot, whose sole aim is personal power and profit, and who doesn’t care how many of his people suffer in the attempt to secure those.
His explicitly anti-patriotic sentiment should terrify all South Africans. And the reason is this: what he really means is: “you have no right to question the decisions of the ruling elite. We are going to milk you for everything you have and we expect you to shut up”. I would be profoundly relieved if anybody could convince me otherwise, but I don’t think I am mistaken. And that is frightening. This should be the kind of political “blunder” that galvanises people into action, leading to the impeachment of the president (yes, I feel it is that serious). Sadly, though, we have become so used to this kind of behaviour from him, and so accustomed to having his cronies cover it up, that there will be a furore for a couple of days, the opposition will make themselves look like whining children when they respond, and the whole thing will be swept under the carpet. It is the pattern of Zuma’s rule (Please understand me: this is not an anti-ANC rant, but it is unashamedly an anti-Zuma one).
Now I am a patriot. If you want my rationale, read my article about the matter: The Seeds of Freedom’s Tree. I hold no political loyalties, but I am deeply loyal to the people of this country. I don’t care whether the ANC or any other party is in power, but I love South Africa too much to stay silent when I see its own president – the one man in the world who should be willing to fight for it – openly state that he doesn’t actually care. I don’t care what party he represents: he doesn’t deserve to lead a country. If a man is not prepared to serve his people, leadership is beyond him.
We have seen recently, too, the power that ordinary people have when they stand up for themselves. The #feesmustfall campaign was a triumph of democracy. For far too long, university access has been largely restricted to the wealthy elite, perpetuating the cycle of an uneven distribution of wealth and keeping the majority of the population locked in blue collar jobs at best. I sincerely hope that the protestors don’t stop at merely postponing a fee increase, but actually push the state to introduce state-funded tertiary educational alternatives.
In that spirit, I am going to ask my South African readers to do something. There is a time for making Zuma jokes, a time for laughing off political indiscretions. This is not such a time. A president should not be allowed to pull a middle finger at his entire population and get away with it. I am not asking you to reject the ANC; many deeply principled human beings serve that honourable institution. Nor am I asking you to support her. I am asking this: be encouraged by the success of the feesmustfall campaign, and find something that you can do. Spread this message. If you are a blogger, blog the hell out of this issue (if you are not South African, use your next post to do something revolutionary. I am sure your country has its own Jacob Zumas): one of your “friends” may be inspired and creative enough to organise something you never thought of. If you are good at organising, and love the allure of television cameras and the thrill of toyi-toying, organise a march (if it is in Gauteng I will be there). If you are still reading this, I want to remind you that you have a power that you may seldom use for anything beyond updating your relationship status: we are the most connected generation in history. Most of you have several hundred “friends” on one or other social networking site. That is serious numbers. If they connect to their friends, we have the beginnings of something very powerful. Let’s rally the troops and actually do something. Instead of moaning about political ineptitude, let’s make our voice be heard: we do value loyalty to our country. We do love its people, wherever their political inclinations may fall. And we refuse to have a man who cannot buy into that vision of nation-building lead us.