In politics, we're told reputation is everything. That's why it's so much fun when people fight for their reputation, either on the slightly tattered playing field of our public discourse, or even in the courtroom. Because in politics, more than in most things, your reputation is what you are. The number of votes you will receive, and thus your future, is tied up in how people view you. As a result, when someone damages your reputation, you have to defend it. And if someone damages you badly, you have to go all out. And if that damage is inflicted by someone famous for eating raw fish off unfortunate young women, well, you really are in all sorts of trouble. By a non-sushi eating STEPHEN GROOTES.
On Friday The Star newspaper published an ‘open letter’ by Sushi King Kenny Kunene, in which the ex-con and king of sleaze referred to President Jacob Zuma as someone who acts “like a monster, a tyrant who will pursue perceived enemies ruthlessly”. Considering the colorful nature of Kunene’s lifestyle, it was good copy for the paper. Kunene’s previous political comments have included an appearance by one Julius Malema at his club and the quote you couldn’t make up that “there’s a lesbian in almost every woman”.
His only other foray into this arena was when he told DA spokesperson Mmusi Maimane on Twitter that he should “focus on fucking ur wife b4 we do it for you…”.
That’s right, ladies, and gentlemen, we are talking about a man who thinks it’s fine and dandy to threaten someone with rape on a platform as public as Twitter. Yep, this is the lowest form of life we’re talking about here.
Surely, then, the right and logical thing to do for Luthuli House would have been to simply ignore it. Why respond? What does that do for you? How does it help? If you do nothing, Kunene’s a one-day wonder. And let’s be frank, this horrible excuse for a man is only doing it for the publicity. He doesn’t care about the political framework of South Africa; he only cares about himself.
But it appears things have reached such a tipping point within the ANC that the party, or more accurately, Jackson Mthembu, felt the need to issue a full and comprehensive response. Mthembu was careful to say it wasn’t directly responding to Kunene, but the statement referred to the “monster” and “tyrant” quotes, so, in the Hollywood way, it was clearly a statement “inspired by the real event” of Kunene’s letter.
In short, this statement basically says the Zuma is not guilty of all that is thrown at him, that he’s a stand-up bloke, and that it’s completely wrong to say he’s a dictator within the ANC, and that the party doesn’t back him. It also makes much of the fact that the ANC is a democracy, and that important decisions are reached “through consensus”. Basically, it’s not a party of Zuma, but of the ANC.
Now, we need to step back a bit here and examine some of these claims. Firstly, and we need to be fair: a lot of rubbish is thrown on Zuma. To listen to some people, he’s entirely and solely responsible for power cuts, corruption, global warming and Bafana Bafana’s annoying lack of interest in next year’s World Cup. Some of the stuff thrown at him is just wrong. In the same way that Helen Zille is not guilty of some of the political claims thrown at her, so Zuma is innocent of some of the political claims against him. Yes. Really. That has to be the case, logically speaking.
But Zuma has made life harder for himself. He has not been found guilty of corruption in any court, that is true. But that is also because he has not actually undergone a trial. And of all the questions that he should be asked, the question of whether he has paid back to Schabir Shaik is probably the hardest for him to answer. He’s always said it was a loan, but we know under the law at the time, it simply could not have been. It’s absolutely fair to say that Zuma owes us an explanation, under oath, of what that interaction was exactly.
Then there’s his claim in Parliament, just last week, that he’s allowed to be friends with whomever he likes. That is true. But if you are going to be friends with people who have access to our air-force bases, then we are also allowed to judge you on the company you keep. If there’s anything we as a country have learnt over the last few years, it’s that you cannot be “friends, finish en klaar”. Life simply doesn’t work like that.
There are a few aspects to the ANC’s statement that really are fascinating. Firstly, why was it issued in the first place? It’s probably not really just a response to old Sushi-breath. It’s probably more to do with the realisation that the reputation of the ANC is now tied to the reputation of Zuma. He’s going to be the face of that election poster. And try as you might, it’s probably going to be hard to argue that there will be more people in South Africa in 2014 who support Zuma than there were in 2009.
On one level, Zille may feel that this statement in itself is a sign of panic at Luthuli House, that it’s an admission Zuma really is going to cost the ANC votes next year. And considering how the ANC itself has reacted to the Gupta Scandal, it ain’t rocket science to understand why.
There’s there’s a curious phrase deep within Mthembu’s heartfelt prose: “It must also go on the record; the President of the African National Congress does not owe any favours to anyone who genuinely believed in his innocence when charges were served on him by the state. There are many members of the ANC (italics by this writer) and people of South Africa who continue to believe in his innocence and will not expect the President to owe them any favours nor loyalty as a result of their support.”
Isn’t that curious, that there are “many members of the ANC….”? Not all, you understand. Not even most. Just many. Really? You would have thought that all members of the ANC believed in their leader’s innocence. Certainly that’s the impression that the party has tried to give us up until this point.
Mthembu also claims that “President Zuma has no authority on any tenders anywhere in the departments or any sphere of government”. That is legally and technically correct. But it’s also simply asking too much of us to believe that people in government, with their eye on on their own future chances, don’t stop and think, “What would Zuma do?” when making decisions. If that is not the case, perhaps the Minister of State Security, Siyabonga Cwele, could deign to explain to us why the Public Works Ministry investigation report into government’s spending on Nkandla is now classified as “Top Secret”.
But that’s clearly asking too much. Really, if we can’t judge people on the company they keep, on their friends, then why should we judge them on the choice of profession of their spouse?
As to the claim that Zuma is not a dictator, that many people are involved in making decisions in the ANC, that is, again, technically true. But you’ll have to look really hard for an issue where Zuma lost. The last I can think of is where the ANC’s Policy Conference decided against his idea of a “Second Transition” in favour of a “Second Phase of the Transition”. Of course, that doesn’t mean Zuma is a dictator. But he is certainly very adept at getting his own way. And after Mangaung we haven’t seen people speaking with the freedom that they did in the months after Polokwane.
When you get right down to it, this statement by the ANC is interesting not so much of itself, but for the question, why was it issued in the first place? Has it changed the minds of anyone who doesn’t like Zuma? Almost definitely not. So then why write it and release it? Because Zuma is not a dictator, a monster and a tyrant? If that is the case, his reputation should speak for itself. It isn’t. And if you have to defend yourself against someone like Kenny Kunene, well, then in the court of public opinion, you’ve clearly already lost. DM
Photo: Kenny Kunene (Greg Marinovich)