/ 26 November 2008

Those missed photo opportunities –

I confess to having presidential ambitions. Apart from the fact that I can be so influential that sometimes I even manage to convince my wife not to watch Big Brother, I think my demeanour and dress sense are, er, presidential. (On this note let me take the opportunity to acknowledge that President Kgalema Motlanthe’s dress code has improved tremendously since my tirade in an earlier column. Well done, Mkhuluwa.)

But these ambitions took a heavy knock about three weeks ago. No, I have not slept with my wife’s best friend yet. And although I have been tempted, I have not offered or accepted any bribes. I also can’t be accused of not being black enough or having a murky past where I collaborated with the enemy.

The problem is I don’t like posing for photographs. I like taking other people’s pictures, but I find posing rather — imposing. Standing still, doing nothing and fixing your eyes on people with cameras is not my kind of fun — forget the fact that the photographers often expect you to smile. And being presidential is as much about posing for pictures as it is about understanding foreign affairs, the world economy, peace negotiations and saying nothing in many words.

Just how often do exhausted journalists get invited to an “exclusive” photo opportunity between one statesman and a king from a country of half-naked women? It is not unusual to be summoned for a picture “opportunity” when the president leaves the country. So you can imagine how many such opportunities the media had to endure during Thabo Mbeki’s — almost — two presidential terms. One thing for sure is that politicians know it’s okay to be stupid, to have nothing to say, to have a criminal record, to dress badly, to sleep in Parliament, to cross the floor twice in one floor-crossing window — but it is not acceptable to refuse to pose for pictures. Whether it’s opening a school toilet or a tarred road to the local chief’s house, good politicians will not pass up a chance to look into the camera lens and say “cheese”.

And now, a picture that did not happen is about to cause presidential stomach ache for the ruling party president Jacob Zuma. It is common knowledge that during his recent visit to Washington DC, Zuma, the US administration and the outgoing president George Bush all took cover to avoid any shutters snapping. I mean, what is Zuma going to tell his admirers?

“Been there, done that, missed the photo op?”

However, the party spin machinery has come out emphatically saying that such allegations are cheesy at best and at worst unpresidential. In fact, I am told if such allegations were made this time next year, with Zuma occupying the West Wing of the Union Buildings, they would be nothing less than treason. Even better, now the party hacks say that Zuma was forward-looking. He knew the writing was on the wall and that rather than being seen in the media with a face representing yesterday, he was saving his best pose for Barack Obama, who, like Zuma, represents tomorrow.

Fair enough. But then again, when I look at the media and see that Zuma has been posing next to anyone who cares to stand next to him, I wonder why he would snub outgoing secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. I mean last weekend we woke up to a picture of Zuma posing with a female ANC supporter in Mitchells Plain. Not only posing, be it noted, but the woman smacked our future president full on the lips.

Cheesy, I say. But then, what’s a man to do if those who admire him and want to deliver him to the Union Buildings will employ any means necessary, or juicy. I can only hope that was not a kiss of death for Zuma.

It is with this kind of background that I think I must perish the thought of one day becoming president of South Africa. For long before I get there, doomsayers would want to know why I had been to a strip club and not posed for pictures with the exploited masses who have to undress to please the rich capitalist classes of this world.

They would want to know why, on the day of my wedding, I did not kiss my wife, although there are several pictures of me giving all the female guests a thank-you kiss for coming to the party.

In normal life a picture tells a thousand words, but in politics, especially presidential races, it is the picture you do not take that tells a thousand lies.