After a stellar performance during the World Cup, the turning fortunes of Jacob Zuma make many of us wonder if the South African presidency will be forever filled by wackos.
South Africa pulled off the World Cup like any grown up country; in fact, better. Infrastructure nightmares, mass strikes, insidious crime waves – didn’t happen.
Now it looks like it’s happening, and what we thought was Zuma’s deft handling of his country may just have been his ability to stick a very large finger into the hole in the dam.
Today is the tenth day of a national strike which threatens to bring the country to a standstill. Schools, hospitals, social agencies and even part of the President’s office are on strike. Late yesterday even the military threatened to join the walkouts!
Workers’ grievances have coalesced into a single demand: an 8.6% basic wage increase and a $130 monthly housing allowance. Zuma dug in his heals at 7% and $100.
So the difference isn’t that big; nowhere near as big as Zuma’s ego.
Zuma is best known as the president with twelve wives. That social embarrassment, though, was eclipsed recently by the revelations that Zuma’s family has profited from questionable government mining leases.
Now with twelve wives Zuma’s family extends over large parts of South Africa, but it’s a principal son who is principally involved this time.
This scandal follows Zuma’s pet legislative agenda this season: nothing to do with wages, housing or social justice. He is promulgating a draconian law that will suppress South Africa’s mighty and free press.
Zuma is the third president of the new republic. Nelson Mandela performed better than any of us could have hoped. The second president, Thabo Mbeki, fell into history as the leader who insisted that AIDS wasn’t a virus.
The interesting thing about both these guys is that under their weird personas appears to be some real talent. They both come from the ANC’s inner circle, were dedicated ideologues and have clearly formed a massive bureaucracy underneath them that is working marvelously.
Their approach to foreign policy, particularly with troubled Zimbabwe at their sleeves and massive illegal immigration, has actually received educated nods from around the world.
So what’s with this clowning around?
In Zuma’s case, his flirtations with the law are getting serious and begin to look like so many African leaders that take privilege beyond legislation. His close brush with conviction for rape (complexly linked to his polygamy) could be his ninth life, and as investigations proceed into the mining deals, he may be on the verge of the beginning of his end.
Freedom fighters are a strange lot of people. Nelson Mandela was the exception, and that’s probably why he was their leader. After a generation of fighting by rules that only a few make together, it must be hard to live in a democracy.
I expect until time sweeps away these old guys we’re going to get plenty of cartoons.