SINCE the arrival of President Jacob Zuma into office, we’ve spent quite a lot of time and energy focused on the negative. We did this not because we’re a negative people, but because our president came into office followed by all sorts of stuff and people whose impact on our moral well-being and that of our nation brand integrity we all underestimated at the time.
More worrisome is that even his own party doesn’t seem to have been aware – at least not entirely – of what it was getting itself and us into. As a result, we have spent much of the past year, particularly, mentally following the agendas set by these events, things and people following our president around.
Our collective hopes that the president would “do the right thing” were raised on several occasions, notably in the immediate aftermath of the seminal constitutional court judgment on Nkandla and, recently, when the seemingly gatvol National Executive Committee of the ANC met to deal with the matter once and for all. It was not to be.
Watching the often incredible developments around the president and the ruling party, the latter now almost completely entangled in the gradual unravelling of it all, reminds me of the words of a dead foreign politician who doesn’t get quoted often – one Boris Yeltsin, a Russian.
Some of you might remember him as the very boisterous, vodka-loving president who seemed to have the courage to look pretty much anything in the face and mock it, or simply have a party. He famously climbed on top of a military tank during an attempted military coup in Moscow, loudhailer in hand and the media watching, to address the public.
Previously a supporter and comrade of former president Mikhail Gorbachev – Russia’s own FW de Klerk – Yeltsin had resigned from the Communist Party politburo in the late 1980s, but reappeared in heightened prominence after Gorbachev’s prerestroika and glasnost reforms as an opponent of the past, a proponent of fast-tracked change.
He said around that time that “one can build a throne with bayonets, but one cannot sit on it forever”.
This brings me back to the manner in which former president Thabo Mbeki was taken out of office by the previous coalition of the wounded – now splintered – who, driven by anger and for some, utter hatred for Mbeki, made sure to humiliate him for the world to see.
Zuma like a boa constrictor
For some of them, it wasn’t enough that Mbeki was handed the “recall” card; they wanted to see what his tail would look like between his legs as he packed his bags and left office.
Now it seems like the chickens have come home to roost, except that the current president had foresight of it all. Like a patient spider, he took his time to weave his web in every nook and cranny of our political and economic tapestry, ensuring that whoever would try to unhinge him would have to undo hundreds of thousands of little threads first, many of them hidden or disguised as other things.
In a recent column, political analyst and journalist Justice Malala compared him to a boa constrictor slowly killing and devouring its prey, the ruling party.
Now, Zuma will go when he goes; he will not sit on his increasingly creaky throne forever. While all of that unravels, we have to start refocusing on the things that made us want to build a country together, the basics. We have to remind ourselves of the preamble to our constitution – or the Freedom Charter for those who believe strangely that the latter is more supreme – for the two are alike.
One sentence should drive us; only one, and the rest will follow from it – and that is that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it”.
From this one profound sentence – which many latter-day politicians seem to pretend doesn’t exist – should flow everything else. What did we sign up for, at the dawn of our democracy, and what are the things, the values, and other elements of our socio-political pact that should keep us together as a nation, inspire our kids to hold hands and do a better job building this country, mindful of our dismal failures, our horrible past, and the fact that they all belong?
What are the things that should give, today, in order for us to succeed? How can we muster the wisdom to resolve all the unresolved business that keeps rearing its head without tearing one another apart, back into racial laagers?
Because of our country’s rich diversity, our future can never be found in any of the extremes, right or left, that we see being thrown at us by political opportunists on a daily basis. There is a middle ground we should navigate to and occupy; a middle that is not blind to the unfinished business of our time, but that can become a home for all of us, irrespective of the madness happening all around us.
While we do that, ill-gained thrones will continue falling apart. When they finally do, we should not be found wanting, torn apart, hurling unnecessary insults at one another. We need to bring back sanity despite the madness around us.