[DEBATE] : (Fwd) Barnes: 'Zuma a big step to the right'
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Tue Dec 25 06:40:04 GMT 2007
(I thought the Zuma-Clinton comparison is better than Bush. But Terri's
right on target with good 'ol boy critique.)
Associate professor of history at UWC
Just a ‘good ol’ boy’ from Nkandla
In December 2000, I stayed up every night watching CNN as the challenges
to George Bush’s election never quite achieved tidal-wave proportions.
They ebbed away when Al Gore finally quit. In South Africa people shook
their heads: “Do the Americans understand what they have done?”
Now the shoe is on the other foot. In December 2007, people around the
world are asking the same thing about South Africans. How on Earth has
the ANC elected Jacob Zuma its president?
Zuma is not a blathering idiot like Dubya, but there are many
similarities between them. Americans elected Bush in a reaction to the
(weak) social democracy of Bill Clinton and in revulsion against his
liberal personal habits. Bush’s election represented a clear turn to the
right, and Bush himself was only a talking head for the forces to which
he was indebted and dedicated: the silent American machine of big
business, the old boys’ club and old money.
Bush, however, appealed to “the average American” because he was, in
American slang, a “good ol’ boy”. That’s a phrase from American South
and it means he is one of us. He’s a white guy who knows that the
victory of the North in the Civil War was a travesty, and he values the
same things we do: Mom, pecan pie and the National Rifle Association (NRA).
The fact that George Bush comes from old, old money and is as firm an
establishment figure as they come didn’t bother his support base. Who
cares about all that? He’s someone to whom we can relate!
As Bush did with Clinton, Zuma has benefited from a popular personal
revulsion with Mbeki: his distance, his imperiousness, his sterility.
Zuma, on the other hand, incessantly displays manly traits: possession
of women, possession of children, that belly and the deep lovely singing
voice raised in constant defence of the local version of the NRA. He’s a
man’s man! And he has drawn the wool over people’s eyes with the same
kind of evasive, fake folksiness that Bush deployed with such success in
Zuma isn’t even a populist. He’s a good ol’ boy from Nkandla who will be
the front man for a set of business interests from which the public will
avert its eyes. People starved for respect and friends won’t want to
know, and the media are too inept to notice. The old white-tradition
media will go on narrowly about Zuma’s lack of education and his rape
and corruption problems. What they seemingly will never understand is
that a large percentage of the population — the very same percentage
that they trampled on happily and refused to educate during apartheid;
what a coincidence — doesn’t care about any of that. Do they care about
Winnie’s transgressions? Zuma’s alleged transgressions? No. Not a damn.
Who cares about all that — they are people to whom we can relate. And
they seem actually to like us (unlike the white establishment, which
generally still dips itself in disinfectant after every encounter).
The defining characteristic of American life is total amnesia. It’s a
nation (with exceptions, to be sure) of people who live in the present
maxing out their credit cards. The movie where Drew Barrymore loses her
memory every night and wakes up every morning to Adam Sandler’s cue
cards reminding her who she is: a potent symbol of modern American life.
Under the impact of an unrelenting dose of 13 years of genuine and
wannabe American TV blasting into every South African home that has
achieved electricity, one sees the blank fog of amnesia rolling thickly
over the Mzansi brain as well. Is there any other way to explain how the
national media can call Zuma a left candidate when one of his happiest
Johnny-come-latelys was the Grand Poobah of the local version of The
Apprentice a few years back? Money, money, money, money? Money!
The Bush-Zuma comparison is made complete by Gore and Mbeki — two highly
intelligent, bloodless, stiff men. The camera is not their friend. We
can thank our lucky stars that the Mbeki camp didn’t roll out a long,
passionate smooch for the president with Mrs Mbeki on national TV as a
way of trying to prove his latent sexiness, the way the Democrats tried
and failed with Al and Tipper. Wouldn’t that have been something.
To conclude: Jacob Zuma is a big step to the right for South Africa. His
allies in Cosatu and the SACP have by definition also taken a big step
to the right. Zuma and his camp: that is what the real right in South
Africa looks like. To non-aligned people hoping to now get themselves
and their children out of the sand, out of the mud, out of the rain, out
of the public hospital queues, out of the sewage — don’t hold your
breath. To the Yengenis and Agliottis of South Africa, on the other
hand: roll right up to the trough in your 4×4s.
More information about the Debate-list