Ed: The political chameleon on a Smartie box
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Adriaan Basson, Sabelo Ndlangisa, Carien du Plessis, Charl du Plessis and Mandy Rossouw City Press. 4 November 2012. 10h00. This week President Jacob Zuma put his Mangaung campaign into overdrive and showed himself to be a political chameleon.
But a dramatic departure from a prepared text to traditional leaders in Parliament revealed his true agenda.
It was supposed to be a measured response to critique of the controversial Traditional Courts Bill, but it quickly turned into a roaring endorsement of solving “African problems the African way”.
President Jacob Zuma was clearly inspired by the response he received from traditional leaders when he started making off-the-cuff comments during his address to the National House of Traditional Leaders on Thursday.
This caused him to contradict his prepared speech, which asked for a rethink of the bill, by pleading for a return to an African way of resolving disputes and a rejection of “the white man’s way”.
The bill has been rejected by most provinces and rural women’s organisations, which object to its empowerment of a patriarchal system of chieftains.
Zuma also slammed black people “who become too clever”, saying “they become the most eloquent in criticising themselves about their own traditions and everything”.
In an angry-sounding tone, Zuma asked traditional leaders to help people understand who they are.
“Because if you are not an African, you cannot be a white, then what are you? You don’t know. You can’t explain yourself. How then can you grow children?”
Zuma asked in isiZulu: “Whose traditions will they (the children) practise? The Zuma traditions or the Smith traditions? We have lost direction. Even if I live in the highest building, I am an African.”
He said he felt “very passionately” about resolving disputes in a traditional way.
“During our time we did not have prisons because never did we say it was a problem we could not resolve … Prisons are done by people who cannot resolve problems,” he said, and then asked traditional leaders not to be “influenced by other cultures”.
Apartheid took away “our dignity … because our traditional system and leadership was undermined.
But once you get freedom, you must bring it back”, the president said.
Realising the PR nightmare he had caused, Zuma’s spin doctors have re-released his prepared address.
On Friday, President Jacob Zuma told more than a thousand unemployed people in East London what they wanted to hear – that the public works department had created 600 cleaning jobs.
The project was approved months ago, but it only sprang into action this week. He said cleaners’ jobs would be increased nationwide to 35 000 by the end of next year.
“We recognise unemployment in South Africa is deeply structural. Decent work will take time to reach the marginalised.
“Joblessness has a history in South Africa … Others want to twist things (and make) as though it came with the (ANC) government,” he said.
Zuma repeated what he told traditional leaders on Thursday – that the notion of a growing income gap between the rich and the poor was a myth.
“It can’t be (the case that inequality) is growing as we have given grants to 15 million people. The clever people are lying. Before 1994 there was no black economic empowerment, black companies on the JSE or grants.”
Zuma also said people should stop saying the ANC is corrupt, because it is “untrue”.
On Thursday Zuma said: “People who write in papers are educated.
They think they are telling the truth. It is not … It is propaganda that is very dangerous.”
Zuma has fought a populist fight to stay out of court, portraying himself as the victim of a political conspiracy.
The president and his attorney, Michael Hulley, are currently fighting the DA’s attempts to obtain transcripts of the so-called spy tapes used to get Zuma off the hook on corruption charges.
This week the DA accused acting prosecutions boss Nomgcobo Jiba of being in contempt of court for refusing to hand over the transcripts.
The party said it was “more important for (Jiba) to accommodate (Zuma) than to comply with the Supreme Court of Appeal’s order”.
Zuma’s playing to the crowd goes way back.
In 2006 he had to apologise after telling a Heritage Day rally: “When I was growing up, an ungqingili (a gay person) would not have stood in front of me. I would knock him out.”
If you listened to President Jacob Zuma addressing the Foreign Correspondents’ Association on Monday, you would think all was right in the world – or at least in Zuma’s world.
It was a charm offensive like never before.
Marikana, economic downgrades and the ANC’s leadership battle have left Zuma and South Africa bruised, and this was an opportunity to set the record straight.
But Marikana was a mere “mishap”, Zuma said, the wealth gap was apartheid’s fault and to say there were “battles” in the ANC was wrong; it was merely democracy playing itself out.
He insisted the Marikana massacre, in which 46 people died, was not too serious.
“South Africa is moving forward. We’ve had particularly the mishap of Marikana … You could say it was an unfortunate incident.”
As for mining sector strikes in general, he said: “There is no crisis. The workers have a right to raise their concern.”
He criticised the view of those who say the income gap in South Africa has widened since 1994, saying there were no reliable statistics to measure the wealth gap before 1994.
He denounced the suggestion that he had failed as a leader, blaming past injustice.
“It makes no sense that, because of colonialism, apartheid and exploitation, this presidency must be blamed. Why should the sins of the oppressor be our sins?”
He didn’t want to comment on Nkandlagate, save to say “there’d been an exaggeration”.
And all was well in the ANC, he argued. “This business of saying there are fights in the ANC is a misinterpretation. This is democracy and democracy is about competitiveness.”
He noted that people “loved raising Kgalema Motlanthe’s name” as his challenger at Mangaung, but this did not worry him. “Kgalema Motlanthe is my comrade.
“He went to prison because of me. I don’t have sleepless nights.”
He assured foreign journalists that corruption was under control.
“We have legislation to deal with people, including people of the ANC who are corrupt.”