Zuma went “he, he, he, he”, all the way home

Jacob Zuma is laughing all the way to Nkandla. (Gallo)

Jacob Zuma is laughing all the way to Nkandla. (Gallo)

Gelotology is the official term for the study of laughter. Actually explaining laughter scientifically has proven very, very difficult. There aren’t many papers that pop up for it on a Google search. Published medical articles for it amount to about 40 (I’m rounding up here). One of the reasons scientists have not been able to sufficiently explain laughter as an expression of emotion is because, according to Professor Sophie Scott of the University College of London, (who has been trying to study laughter), is because the sciences – especially psychology, is morbidly obsessed with studying negative emotions instead of positive ones. 

It’s not dissimilar to the obsession some South African’s might have with focusing on the negative stuff instead of the positive stuff. Zuma for example, makes all sorts of negative emotions crop up.

As a test, I sat back, closed my eyes and meditated repeating “Zuma, Zuma, Zuma”, over and over again. And even in a most relaxed state (I tried), I could not think of one positive thing about the man except to say … Well, it’s not funny when he laughs at some pretty serious stuff in some pretty serious circumstances, but it is a funny laugh and I do laugh at his laugh.

I tried this with a bunch of other people, because no human is without fault … “Mbeki, Mbeki, Mbeki” … my thoughts went quickly from “hmm … arms deal shenanigans”, to “Oh, but he did make that great I am an African speech”. See? At least one good thing - even if it is shallow, which I find, in most circumstances, when we’re really searching hard for that silver lining, it usually is. In fact, lining is much too strong a word, it’s more like slight gradient change and often something you see because of a trick of the eye, or light or something. Regardless, Mbeki has one, Zuma … not so much, he, he, he.

On the subject of that he, he, he … (which again, is just about the only thing about the man that makes me ha, ha, ha).

Now, there aren’t numbers to prove it. No one has turned Parliament into a lab and sat there with their white coat garb and clip boards gathering answers from a questionnaire to try and determine what Zuma’s laughter means, and whether, in fact it is normal – (Laughter itself is of course normal, but reacting with laughter in that way and what the emotional expression of that means? Who knows? Not scientists. Yet). 

But, if we did exercise some qualitative research in Zuma’s natural environment, and for the purposes of this research we accepted that parliament was Zuma’s natural habitat (yes. Parliament. Not Nkandla. We will look into that study another time). Because he is being studied in a natural environment “where he behaves naturally – duh”, we can’t force him to always “he, he, he” when the topics of Nkandla or Marikana pop up). So the study (and the findings no less), would have some limitations:

Perhaps Zuma is just a naturally nervous guy and sometimes he is more nervous than others? Where some fill the spaces between sentences with inhalation or brows that frown in pensive thought, he (he, he), fills them with “he, he, hes”. Sometimes, these behaviours start during childhood even. Perhaps this is not a reflection of him as a president but a person? And maybe, that’s just the type of guy he is? : A nervous public speaker that laughs awkwardly and makes things more awkward. 

However, if social commentary and popular opinion were gathered as part of the research and proven as facts, here are the findings they would probably present: 

- The study has found that Zuma’s laughter is not normal.

- The fact that he uses “he, he, he” when he laughs instead of “ha, ha, ha”, is a little bit creepy and a little bit vulgur.

- The findings show that he uses that very, “he, he, he”, in the middle of speeches, addresses, responses – which specifically are very serious in nature, makes one ask if he is just plain oblivious or just plain defensive, (and creepy).

And the most abnormal thing (the findings have found), is that Marikana and Nkandla, for example, are absolutely not a laughing matter and perhaps Zuma is not well.

Well … Laughter is the best medicine. One question really bugs me though (and one may need to bug his phone to find out), but when he responds to texts, does he type “he, he, he”, “ha, ha, ha”, does he merely LOL?

Haji Mohamed Dawjee

Haji Mohamed Dawjee

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is the social media accounts director at Ogilvy PR. She was previously the deputy digital news editor and social media editor at the Mail & Guardian. Haji has an honours degree in journalism from the University of Stellenbosch and continues to write columns for the M&G. Read more from Haji Mohamed Dawjee


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