What is one to make of a trade union boss who argues that threatening to kill for political advantage is an acceptable tactic of democractic “contestation”?
How are we to understand the leaders of a party who feel compelled to undermine and discredit the legal system that their party’s struggle ushered into being?
Or who aim their heavy rhetorical weaponry at the Human Rights Commission, which was set up to guard against the very iniquities their movement fought against?
What about the police and the intelligence services at war with the Scorpions and desperate to protect the hopelessly compromised police commissioner?
How are we to understand a man who expects to be president of the country and who is already president of this extraordinary, hegemonic party of the people? Why can he find nothing meaningful to say about any of it?
Are Jacob Zuma and his court simply bereft of political talent, or should we ascribe all their finely honed contradictions to the special logical apparatus of communists and other vanguard intellectuals? That realm of abstraction is inaccessible to us, but we suspect it is not really as complicated as it seems.
Here’s a handy guide — stick it to your fridge if you think it will help.
- ANC president Jacob Zuma is determined to move from Luthuli House to the Union Buildings. He is prepared to do just about anything to ensure that nothing stands in his way.
- The real obstacles in his path, however, are so various, and his need for backing so overwhelming, that he won’t speak out against even the most outrageous tactics employed in his support; alternatively he will offer “criticism” so lily-livered as to be meaningless.
- Many leaders of the ANC and its left-wing allies are avid for the government jobs that will open up after next year’s elections. They know their best bet is to put Zuma deeply in their debt and ensure that he becomes president of payback time.
- To achieve this they must attack any person or institution that stands in his way and support any person or institution that strengthens him.
- Judge John Hlophe stands accused of trying to subvert the Constitutional Court. But he is a Zuma ally, so he must be supported.
- ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema undermines the rule of law, not to mention basic democratic norms, by calling for people to kill for Zuma. But he is a Zuma ally, so he must be supported.
- The Human Rights Commission, a constitutionally protected body, demands that Malema apologise for his remarks. No apology must be given; indeed, the HRC must also be attacked.
With this background in mind, understanding things is easier.
So ours is really a simple story about ambitious careerists putting their interests above those of society. Sounds like classic bourgeois behaviour to us …
AU could do more
There were some encouraging signs at the African Union meeting in Sharm-el-Sheik, not least in the form of more evidence that a new style of leadership is consolidating itself on the continent.
Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete is perhaps the most striking example, presenting the kind of face to the continent, and the world, that Thabo Mbeki seems unwilling to show.
But the AU’s equivocal censure of Robert Mugabe’s theft of the elections stands in depressing contrast to the professions of commitment to good governance and democracy that are the order of the day at these events.
Mugabe went to the Red Sea resort with his hands dripping with the blood of Zimbabweans killed or tortured by his militia, intimidated by his soldiers or forced out of their homes by a Zanu-PF machine bent on destroying any prospect of opposition. That he was desperate to is clearly evident from the unseemly haste of his inauguration.
The AU could not turn him away, but they should have done much more to condemn and embarrass him. The host, Hosni Mubarak — who is no democrat himself failed even to mention the crisis in Zimbabwe.
It was no surprise that at the end of the summit, instead of denouncing the barbaric behaviour exhibited by one of their own, they issued a lukewarm statement that encouraged Zanu-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change to talk to each other and work towards the creation of a unity government.
The AU’s own organs — the Southern African Development Community, the AU and the Pan African Parliament observer teams — declared that the election did not represent the will of the people of Zimbabwe. The least the African body could have done in the light of that was to declare that it did not recognise Mugabe as president.
The sterner voices of Tanzania, Zambia, Botswana, Nigeria, Liberia and Senegal, which criticised him in strong terms, now sound as though they come from the continental fringe.
They should represent its bright new centre. The least the AU can do now is to get a firm commitment from Mugabe to negotiate and to negotiate in good faith. The AU should also insist on clear time frames and deadlines so that the old despot does not use the time to entrench himself and his acolytes indefinitely.