Analysis: Hypocrisy, SA politics’ favourite pastime

By Branko Brkic 26 February 2010

Why is hypocrisy such a defining feature of South African politics? And are we so jaded, we don't care anymore?

For the past month there has been something of a background debate about “lifestyle audits”. What exactly these audits will do and who they target are not clear, although The Daily Maverick has speculated on the real reason and who the main targets might be.

The general idea seems to be aimed at flushing out those public representatives who are living a lifestyle which they cannot possibly afford – and which would imply that they’re either corrupt or in danger of being corrupted.

But now it turns out that the wife of the man who is proposing this project, Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, is in business with one of the wives of none other than President Jacob Zuma. The business prowess of Vavi’s wife, Noluthando, is apparently the reason the duo can afford to live in a R2.9 million house in Morningside, Sandton.

The Star reports that a probe into the lives of the wives of political leaders shows that President Jacob Zuma’s second wife, Nompumelelo Ntuli, and Cosatu boss Zwelinzima Vavi’s second wife, Noluthando, share business interests in a property registered in the name of Vivian Reddy. Intsika Yembokodo Development Projects was started in 2008 and is registered at an address in Sunninghill, Sandton, which is owned by Reddy, the Durban businessman who allegedly bankrolled Zuma in his comeback years, The Star reports.

What? The head of SA’s trade union movement’s wife is in business with a well-known bag-man for the president? Is this not hypocrisy?

Hypocrisy is, of course, a very even-handed affair when it comes to politicians, who, bless them, cannot resist noticing the speck in the eyes of others, oblivious to the plank in their own.

And it is practiced all over the world, with examples that are too common to list. Just to mention a few: South Carolina Governor, Mark Sanford,  nipped off to Argentina for some nookie with his girlfriend even while he presented himself as a defender of the institution of marriage. This wasn’t as bad as New York Governor Eliot Spitzer who presented himself as the moral voice of Wall Street and prosecuted prostitution rings with never-before seen vigour and energy. Of course, it turned out he was a “Manhattan Madam” Kristin Davis’s client No 09; very good and honourable client, Spitzer always paid his bills. And, of course, there’s former Senator and Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate from ’04, John Edwards, having an affair while his wife was undergoing chemo-therapy. To add insult to injury, he was also honoured with the Father of the Year award in 2007.

The list goes on and on. But we live here, so let’s start at the top here. President Jacob Zuma has been on a mission recently to “initiate a national dialogue on what constitutes South Africa’s moral code”.

Talking to the Sunday Times, President Zuma said he would lead the project as president, but he would not use the ruling ANC or government space for his envisaged national conversation.

He made the same point this week opening the National House of Traditional Leaders, calling for a debate on the “issue of a national moral code”.??”I’ve said I’m going to initiate a national conversation on the moral code, on our values as a country,” he said.

Okay, great. Let’s start the conversation. I would like to suggest that people who sleep with their friends’ children should be excluded from such a debate, because, otherwise, they could be accused of … wait for it … hypocrisy.

The notion that President Zuma, given his history, should grandstand on the issue of morality is so disingenuous and hypocritical it takes your breath away. Except that judging by the general nonplussed reaction to the notion, it doesn’t really.
The positive spin on sanctimonious hypocrisy lies in the old saying that hypocrisy is “the tribute that vice pays to virtue”.

Yet the topic of hypocrisy includes a telling quote from Boris Pasternak’s “Doctor Zhivago”. At one point the character Yurii says this:

“Your health is bound to be affected if, day after day, you say the opposite of what you feel, if you grovel before what you dislike… Our nervous system isn’t just fiction, it’s part of our physical body, and it can’t be forever violated with impunity.”

In short, hypocrisy is demeaning, and though they don’t say it, in their hearts, people do know it.

Let’s see if that is true for people of South Africa too.

By Tim Cohen

Read more: IOL, The Daily Maverick


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