The self-fulfilling prophecy of Zuma and friends

There you are one fine day, marching through the woods at the head of a royal army, exhausted but elated. You have just won a great victory in battle for your king and can look forward to a handsome reward in lands, loot, ale, slaves, wenches, or whatever else confers honour in the medieval universe you inhabit. 

At a clearing in the forest, while still basking in the glow of these thoughts you chance upon three witches, huddled over bubbling cauldrons of rabbit’s feet, frogs, human remains and other paraphernalia of witchery. You accept their praise and congratulation with the humility of a soldier, but amid their incantations and mumbled fortune-telling they say something very specific and tantalising, divining that you “shall be king hereafter”. 

Now you are humble, but are not without ambition. You have ideas about how the kingdom might be better ruled, how to collect more tax, how constant rebellion against the crown should be handled, the usual stuff. This witches’ prophecy is intriguing. It also presents you with a dilemma. The king is young, healthy and virile, capable of producing an assembly line of heirs. How might you succeed him? 

If you did things to make the environment more conducive for the prophecy to succeed, is it still a prophecy? Say you killed the king, his entire line of succession, and any other lord and earl that might have a claim to the throne, thus leaving yourself as the only one qualified to “be king hereafter”, and thus to fulfil the prophecy. Have you cheated? Is it the prophecy or your own actions that make you king? 

It is an interesting question of philosophy and psychology, the self-fulfilling prophecy. I thought of the self-fulfilling prophecy as news filtered out that the American FBI and various British anti-crime agencies have now simultaneously opened lines of inquiry into the nexus of grand larceny and corruption that links President Jacob Zuma and his family to the Gupta empire. Yes, there is a line of thought that leads directly from Macbeth to our president’s mounting legal troubles. I will explain. 

First, there is a funny, almost delicious irony in the revelations that the investigation into Zuma and his pals has now effectively been internationalised. 

Zuma is by all accounts and evidence a man with a healthy if sometimes ill-advised sense of humour, our Chuckler-in-Chief always ready to laugh off the most serious allegations, from ‘Nkhaaaand-la’ to Saxonwold Cabinet appointments. The infuriating Zuma guffaw has become the definitive image of an entire era of misrule. 

I am certain Zuma would allow himself a brief chuckle at this incongruous turn of events in Washington and London, were it not so deadly serious for his own future, especially his now desperate attempts to avoid spending most of his retirement kitted out in an orange onesie.

Here it is: Zuma has spent the last few years borrowing heavily from The Tin-pot African Dictator’s Handbook (Robert Mugabe et al, 1980); painting himself implausibly as the victim of Western imperialist mischief, and insulting his domestic political opponents (or anyone else who’s unpatriotically opposed to theft) as agents and puppets of The Imperialists. 

In this telling of it, Zuma is the radical African(ist) liberator whose hard toil to free his people from poverty and inequality has spooked The Imperial Powers, and they are now doing everything and using everyone they can to undermine his rule and destroy the ANC (because he and the ANC are one and the same thing). 

As an aside, and for brevity, we will ignore for a moment the ridiculous implication that a system of Western global dominance that saw off the Soviet Union, Mao Zedong, Nazism, Hirohito, even the goddam Ottomans, is somehow threatened by the rule of an innumerate school dropout with a penchant for pilfering off one of the world’s most marginal economies. 

No, the real irony here is that Zuma may have unwittingly willed his own troubles against The Imperialists. Only the outcome will not be a heroic new struggle led by the man from Nkandla, but a broad-spectrum international criminal investigation that will tarnish the ANC, diminish South Africa’s standing, pressure our fragile governance institutions to breaking point, and shame the legacy of Tambo, Mandela and a thousand others who paid dearly for the founding of the democratic republic on which Zuma has pissed for eight full years. 

Now The Imperialists are at the door, knocking loudly and demanding to talk, when every self-respecting criminal knows no good comes of the fuzz wanting to ‘talk’ to you. The Imperialists are funny this way. 

Of course, the system of global finance that they preside over and police is capable of tolerating a great many dodgy dealings and unsavoury practices. 

But it has its limits. Moreover those limits tend to kick in earlier for countries that show a preference for awarding multi-billion dollar state infrastructure contracts to the likes of Russia and China without even the pretence of competitive bidding. And when those contracts are accompanied by transparent backhanders and inexplicable ‘commissions’ that flow through the Imperialist banking institutions that they regulate, well you can hardly be surprised when the FBI, Scotland Yard, the Serious Fraud Office et al eventually come calling. 

Here, unlike in the case of the International Criminal Court, we can’t simply gather our things and leave when we don’t like playing by the rules we signed up to. There is simply no alternative to the dollar-denominated, Imperialist-dominated system of global finance for a small economy such as ours. That is why earlier this year, Zuma reluctantly had to sign the Financial Intelligence Centre Amendment Act into law, over the objections and hard lobbying of his Gupta allies. 

If South Africa came to be thought of as a rogue economy in the global capitals of the West, neither BRICS nor all the anti-Imperialist posturing you can muster, would be enough to save us from the dire consequences. 

Ultimately, whether we know it or not, or like it or not, that is a good thing. Where our own institutions of politics or governance have patently failed us, the intervention of The Imperialists may hold out the last hope to arrest and reverse the tide, and perhaps even return the estimated R7 billion that’s found its way to Dubai for our president’s unofficial retirement fund. 

Would it be better if the charge were led by the Hawks, the SAPS, the Financial Intelligence Centre and SARS? Yes, infinitely so. But it won’t, so South Africa will take its help from whence it comes. 

Vukani Mde is a founder and partner at LEFTHOOK, a Johannesburg-based research and strategy consultancy

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Vukani Mde
Vukani Mde
Vukani Mde is a founder and partner at LEFTHOOK, a Johannesburg-based research and strategy consultancy.

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