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Jacob Zuma: You must tell his story correctly

22 September 2016

The first time I listened to President Jacob Zuma, then the Deputy President of the Republic, he was being interviewed on the challenges of the secondary economy relative to the advanced first economy and what is needed to provide support structures for this economy to progress and begin its upward mobility into the first economy.

I was aware, like most South African that this man had not gone to school so listening to him articulate these economic matters was very pleasant. It would be Pallo Jordan who would put this matter more skilfully, that despite all the reservations that may be there about the uneducated President Zuma, you must always remember that whatever he knows, he taught it himself.  

Picture courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

There I concluded that given the vision of an economically transformed country envisaged, Zuma was fully equipped to take us into the next phase of the National Democratic Revolution. We were fresh off 10 years of economic growth which was characterized by a jobless growth which was not really transformational. The goal was clear, and in achieving this goal of Economic Transformation, we were not going to continue the false lull of substituting Economic Transformation with Economic Growth, that was a false delusion we could no longer afford to sell. Economic growth was not a necessary condition for Economic Transformation. We already had an economy, it was unequal, racially polarized and it needed serious and real transformation up and down its spectrum.  

The democratic state had to take the lead in the transformation of our economy away from the fetters of the past, which constrains growth and development. Economic transformation is very much a key element for greater growth as more people come into the mainstream economy empowered by ownership and a willingness to work. It turns out Economic Transformation does not only make moral sense, it also makes economic sense.

There can be no dispute that Zuma's government has been dedicated to this Economic Transformation. There has been a sustained and substantial investment in economic and social infrastructure, built with methods with a bias towards labour intensive technologies.There has been an increasing of the access of the masses of the people to physical resources, particularly land, housing and community infrastructures.

Poverty reduction and eradication through job creation, skills development and budget interventions to increase the social wage, bearing in mind our limited means; Affirmative action, broad based black economic empowerment and other interventions designed to fast-track the inclusion of the previously marginalized in the mainstream economy and simultaneously transform the structure of the economy; Cooperative movements have been built, as well as the Developmental Micro-Finance movement in order to make a key contribution to the popular mobilization of our people for economic liberation. Mobilizing our communities in general, and targeted groups in particular - women, institutions working with children, people with disabilities, the youth and the elderly - to take up the black economic empowerment opportunities and to help us achieve the broad based development we seek.


This has not been enough for sure and many interventions may not have yielded the desired results. However the overall conclusion on transformation over the last 7 years has been that of a great leap forward.  

What then is the cry about Zuma's record as a President? An Afrobarometer survey conducted in late 2008, before Zuma could put a single day in office as a President, revealed that respondents in the Western Cape had very little trust in the President. It showed, only 13 per cent of respondents in the Western Cape province, compared to 70 per cent in KwaZulu-Natal and 68 per cent in Mpumalanga, said they trusted the President ‘always’ or ‘most of the time’. Perceptions of the trustworthiness of a political leader are critically important because they help voters to make judgement about the authenticity and persuasiveness of the messages put out by the leader.

This research is important for a variety of reasons. First it shows that the perception of many South Africans, particularly white South Africans about President Zuma has always been heavily negative. Secondly there is therefore no devolution of the peoples trust in the President that has happened over the years. Even before he could put a day in office, his ratings were barely off the single digits. He was effectively judged according to sins he may commit in future. The sad thing of course is that this pre-judgement of black leaders has followed both Madiba and Mbeki. In fact the National Party managed to convince both Whites and coloureds in 1994 of the looming black government and they won those elections.

The push to present a black president as a failure has been a permanent feature of our transition. In fact were it not because it serves the current agenda, Mbeki's legacy is defined by Zimbabwe (because he did not protect white interests) and HIV AIDS. In fact, in 1996, when the ink on the new constitution had not even dried up, Tony Leon was already accusing  Madiba of not living up to the constitution. There has always been a permanent experiment to keep pressing until the ANC bends.

As I have already stated, President Zuma’s decisions on Nkandla, Nene, Gupta are today being used to determine Zuma's legacy. This perception of course is being pushed by people who have actually done exceptionally well in the last 7-8 years of President Zuma's term, they have tripled their profits and their salaries, they have moved into better and higher paying jobs, they have bought new homes, got more education, and unlike the poor who genuinely would have a reason to draw a straight line with leaderships and their plight, it is those who  are in positions of comfort, who, sitting in their homes on the hill, cannot possibly link their success with the President that is in charge.  

It was only a matter of time until this permanent push on a Black Presidency would finally reach the black people who are susceptible to this profitable chamber of white applause. Whenever I try to pin down the issues that warrant this intense anti-Zuma posture, the specific reasons that make it necessary, the specific causes which we might feel bring it credence, the conversation with its champions always seem to follow a path of infinite regress.

Do you consider him a terrible President because many South Africans can’t get jobs and can’t upskill themselves to available jobs? But market distortions are predominantly the reason for this. Or perhaps it’s because many children are on drugs? Perhaps it’s because of your warm concern that people’s homes have no heat and no decent living space? Maybe you can try to avoid such questions because the bell is also tolling for thee. It’s safer to choose something esoteric as the rand/dollar exchange rate as an indulgence.

It important to open all motives out because it may be easy today to jump into the Anti-Zuma bandwagon, but tomorrow you or me or someone else may be the next President and the tactics to paint you as a failed President may haunt you still.

Yonela Diko is ANC Western Cape Spokesperson


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