Growing old disgracefully — JZ and the ANC exist somewhere between party line and flatline 

Growing old disgracefully — JZ and the ANC exist somewhere between party line and flatline 
Former president Jacob Zuma. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

Jacob Zuma’s bid for re-election as the ANC’s chairperson has come fast on the heels of his ex-wife’s campaign for power. But will these geriatrics be able to open their emails unassisted?

If nothing drastic is done to manage the political ambitions of certain individuals, there will come a time when the majority of people attending ANC NEC meetings are the elderly lying on stretchers with drips hanging over their weary bodies.

News coming from the country’s only homestead with a fire pool is that JZ wants to stand for election as the ANC’s national chairperson during the upcoming elective conference in December.

The man is 81. Recently we were told he was so sick he couldn’t even spend time quietly in a prison cell after he was sentenced to serve time for defying a commission of inquiry he had set up himself as president.

We are told the man joined the ANC as a rural youth inspired by the dream of freedom back in 1960 or thereabouts. If that’s the case then it means he has served the ANC under five presidents, three of whom have long died. JZ served under Inkosi Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and Cyril Ramaphosa. He himself was president of the party for a decade from 2007 to 2017.

Surely any reasonable man would be weary of the perils of holding political office and choose instead to stay home with the great-grandkids? Or, in JZ’s case, we have seen pictures of him carrying a catapult while strolling in the hills of Nkandla. Ain’t that a nice way to spend time away from prosecutors and backstabbing comrades?

Well, even Gwede Mantashe thinks it’s a big joke to think an octogenarian wants to stand for election as chairperson in the December conference. Thanks to the liberation gods, it seems even after the humiliating boos and jeers he received from the angry mouths of his Cosatu comrades this week, Mantashe appears not to have lost his sanity at least.

Mantashe, who is the current ANC chairperson, is no fresh-faced youth either. He is 67 years, er, old. The youngsters in the ANC are getting restless with senior citizens who show no signs of relinquishing power.

But elders like Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma are refusing to let go. At 73, she is likely to be the next ANC president if she garners enough votes at the party’s elective conference in December. Thixo!

This is why methinks we are moving into an era when the majority of NEC members will be hovering around their centenaries.

Imagine some of these madalas and gogos, with eyes semi-blinded by cataracts and shivering limbs, with bodies made numb by endless doses of chronic painkillers, being brought to these meetings in ambulances. How will people in that state carve a way forward for their political party and, if it’s still in power, for the country?

Perhaps the positive thing about this kind of outcome where such meetings are made up of old men and women, balanced on crutches or slumped in wheelchairs, would be the absence of the kind of thuggish behaviour that saw Mantashe heckled off stage by his Cosatu comrades this week.

I just can’t imagine the elderly resorting to such crude tactics to get their point across. But, eish, old habits die hard. Knowing these people, it is not impossible that they may pelt political opponents with their crutches, drips, medicine bottles and pill boxes.

It’s not clear how an organisation that swears it was called upon by the gods to rule until the son of man makes his long-awaited return aims to come up with fresh ideas when it’s going to be led by people who are way past their prime?

Sure, society needs the wisdom of elders for guidance. But we have to agree that comrades like JZ are a spent force.

We are talking about people who still need help opening an email. Don’t even mention WhatsApp. They still think it needs a commission of inquiry to understand.

These are people who, just five minutes into a meeting to discuss crucial national matters, doze off and dream of their high school-going great-grandchildren benefiting from lucrative government tenders.

But I guess the ANC camaradas are trying to follow in the footsteps of that generation of Africa’s strongmen like the legendary Gnassingbé Eyadéma who ruled Togo with a vice grip from 1967 until his death in 2005.

Eyadéma forced his way into power when Mandela was serving his sixth year of a life sentence on Robben Island. When he was released from prison in 1990 after serving 27 years, Eyadéma was still president.

Four years later, in 1994, Mandela was elected head of state. Guess who was still president of Togo? After serving a single term, Mandela, then aged 81, stepped down. Still the Togolese knew only one president.

I don’t know what it is with power. Those who taste it, especially the worst in the game, just never want to let go. For some reason, like Eyadéma and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, they seem to believe all life revolves around them.

JZ seems to belong to this shameful club of narcissists. Everything is about him. He is the beginning and the end. He has a divine right to leadership. And all those who oppose him are enemy agents, CIA spies or counter-revolutionaries. Perhaps he, like former chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, got a prophesy instructing him to lead by all means. Didn’t Mogoeng say recently that according to a prophesy he received, he is meant to ascend to the position of president in the future?

Anyway, that’s a discussion for another day. For now, let’s just prepare for NEC meetings that look like a casualty ward or a gathering at an old age home. DM168

Mr Styles is the former president of the Organisation for Stylish People of South Africa (Osposa). He is against anything and anyone unstylish.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.


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