Tuesday, December 23, 2008



Justice Malala
Published:Dec 15, 2008
Zuma mouthed platitudes about Zimbabwe and Aids

A year after Polokwane, the ANC still needs a leader

IN THE run-up to the ANC’s Polokwane conference last December, public intellectual Xolela Mangcu memorably wrote of the ANC: “It is like a group of people going over a cliff with their eyes wide open. It is just absolutely amazing. Surreal is more like it.”

Cope born on day Mbeki axed

Probably the best example of this destructive sheep-like behaviour was the resolution by the organisation — parroted frequently and loudly by the party’s leadership — to get rid of the elite crime-fighting unit the Scorpions and to incorporate its members into the SAPS.

It is now exactly a year since Polokwane — and Mangcu’s words still ring very true of the ANC.

I was to be invited to a Foreign Correspondents’ Association dinner two weeks ago. The main speaker was Jacob Zuma, leader of the ANC and widely seen as the next president of the country.

The association brings together the correspondents of all the major news outlets of the world posted to South Africa and the region. In the room were correspondents from the BBC, the Economist, CNN, the Financial Times and others representing media organisations in France, Angola and Sweden. In a nutshell: in that room was a crowd that shapes the world’s view of South Africa.

Now, many say that the international press sensationalises; that it is only interested in blood and gore. All of which might be true. But the fact remains that, for whatever reason, the individuals in that room needed to be impressed, and impressed hugely.

As I sat in that room all I could think was that Jacob Zuma, on the basis of his speech, is not the best man for the job.

I sat there and watched and listened to the man throwing away a golden chance to show that those who fear or loathe him — for whatever reason — are wrong.

He had a chance to charm, and he underwhelmed. He had a chance to speak straight and he was evasive.

Zuma gave a prepared speech that said nothing about anything. He mouthed platitudes about Zimbabwe and Aids and finished off by saying that he felt for the people of India over the Mumbai attacks.

Zuma was asked seven questions about Zimbabwe, including one by a World Bank employee who demanded a straight, yes or no answer. He evaded all of them and not a single person in the room can say what his stance on that country’s terrible situation is.

The truth is that a leader such as Zuma could have used that platform to say something meaningful about the crisis in Zimbabwe.

Instead, Zuma spoke as though the tyrant Robert Mugabe and the oft-detained and tortured Morgan Tsvangirai are exactly the same.

What was the point of kicking out Thabo Mbeki if you are going to continue to push exactly the same misguided policies?

Zuma failed even to point out the terrible effects of the Zimbabwe crisis on South Africa — xenophobia, cholera, and the impact on social services.

And then CNN’s Nkepile Mabuse asked him if he did not feel he should take some responsibility for the more than 300000 people who — according to Harvard University researchers — died because the Mbeki government failed to provide them with anti-retroviral drugs.

A smiling Zuma said he knew nothing about the Harvard report.

Incredible. He must be the only leader in this country who does not know about this report. It was on the front page of every respectable newspaper in the country.

The report has huge implications for Zuma: he was in charge of government’s response to the pandemic between 2001 and 2005 — when these 330000 people died.

And he doesn’t know about the study? The mind boggles. What else does Zuma know nothing about?

Those who sat with Zuma at the main table said he was charming and open. They were impressed by him, and I have to say that these are people who impress me.

So what went wrong? There is absolutely no point in being brave and charming in private, while coming across as shifty and spineless in public. It is a bit like winking at a potential lover in the dark. They won’t see your gesture.

In the run-up to the 2009 election, those ANC members who possess the faculty for self-examination should ask themselves whether it is still prudent to have Zuma leading their party and our country. On the basis of his performance this past year, many would argue that it is time for the ANC to open its eyes and find a new leader.