​We’re a society steeped in violence

Go-to mode: Physical violence is our default option and it’s maintained through the generations. (Marco Longari, AFP)

Go-to mode: Physical violence is our default option and it’s maintained through the generations. (Marco Longari, AFP)

I don’t know a lot about President Jacob Zuma’s brother, Michael. He has stayed out of the media spotlight more effectively than some of the other big hitters of the Zuma family: the Edwards; the Khulubuses.

Admittedly, there was that unfortunate incident in 2013 when he conceded that he allowed a property company to harness the almighty power of his surname to win a contract to build RDP houses. In exchange for this generosity, Michael was expecting to be able to build a R10-million home next to his brother’s at Nkandla.

The plan didn’t work out but the details were poignant. The draftsman responsible for chatting to Michael Zuma about what he had in mind for his dream home told the media that Michael wanted a mini version of the Nkandla compound. Same vibe, just on a smaller scale. Given that the R10-million budgeted was less than one 24th of the real Nkandla’s price tag, one has to imagine that Michael’s version would have been quite a bit smaller.

In my head I picture it as being a bit like Minitown, the Durban tourist attraction that is a tiny replica of Durban itself. Coincidentally, the buildings in Minitown are scaled down to 1:24 of their actual size, so they reach just above knee height. Did Michael fantasise about looming over his model Nkandla, lord of all he surveyed? It’s tough to be the younger, less successful sibling.

One thing that cannot be disputed about Michael is that he has his brother’s back. Last week he swam into public consciousness once again in an interview given to the Sunday Times in which he shared his fears that Jacob Zuma might be killed by his enemies soonish.

Reading Michael’s interview made for a slightly out-of-body experience. Partly this was caused by various hallucinogenic details that played a secondary role in the narrative. Michael said, for instance, that five pastors — presumably South Africa’s version of the Three Wise Men — had recently travelled to Nkandla to deliver a foreboding message on the back of a collective vision related to a speech Nelson Mandela made in the early 1990s.

I have so many questions. How do five pastors experience one vision? Aren’t there enough visions to go around these days? More importantly, what the Fikile Mbalula were they on about?

I’d need a few more hits of my pipe before I could venture a guess, but it’s worth noting that one of Mandela’s greatest hits among whites — “If the ANC does to you what the apartheid government did to you, then you must do to the ANC what you did to the apartheid government” — was delivered at the Cosatu conference in 1993.

But the point is this: President Zuma’s own sibling is worried that his older brother could get offed if he doesn’t stop being president.

It is perfectly plausible that the president could be an assassination target, if you consider the political milieu in which he exists. It’s like Game of Thrones out there.

If you think I’m exaggerating, consider the fact that, in the run-up to the local government elections earlier this year, eNCA created an “interactive Google map of recent political killings” for users to explore.

It is a world where elected representatives get murdered all the time. Two ANC councillors were killed in separate incidents on the same day — Mandela Day — this year. One of them was shot in his car in front of his children as he was about to drive them to school.

Their deaths brought the total number of ANC leaders killed in KwaZulu-Natal, in the previous four months, to 13.

There have been more than 450 political assassinations in that province alone since 1994, and that number is almost certainly an underestimate.

It’s not just ANC councillors getting killed, either. Two Economic Freedom Fighters members were killed while campaigning in Tembisa before the local government elections earlier this year. A Democratic Alliance councillor was burnt to death in his house in George just last week.

Johannes Baatjies, a DA leader in the Northern Cape, was shot in the head on the evening he was sworn in as a municipal councillor after the elections, together with his business partner. The men arrested for the murders included — plot twist! — an ANC councillor.

When the politicians aren’t the target, sometimes they’re the perpetrators. Exhibit A: Independent Electoral Commission vice-chair Terry Tselane’s recent account of being followed, photographed, labelled an “enemy” and told by ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe that, if he were younger, he would “organise people” to “deal with” Tselane.

Our go-to national mode, it seems, is violence — or the threat of it. Violence has been sown into the soil of our political landscape since time immemorial. Zuma’s brother understands that and so do the students of the Fallist protests. Government hand-wringing over student actions is disingenuous in the extreme.

Ask not where young South Africans picked up tactics of violence and intimidation. They learnt it by looking around them.

Rebecca Davis

Rebecca Davis

Rebecca Davis has a master’s in English literature from Rhodes and a master’s in linguistics from Oxford University, UK. After a stint at the Oxford English Dictionary, she returned to South Africa, where she has been writing stories and columns for various publications, including the M&G. Her first book, Best White (And Other Anxious Delusions), came out in 2015. Read more from Rebecca Davis

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