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Things the Roman Emperor taught us about roller coaster rides

Jill of all trades but really, mistress of none, Carien has of late been a political tourist chasing elections and summits in various parts of the world, especially in Africa. After spending her student days at political rallies in South Africa right through the country's first democratic elections in 1994, and after an extended working holiday in London, Carien started working for newspapers full-time in 2003. She's pretty much had her share of reporting on South African politics, attending gatherings and attracting trolls, but still finds herself attracted to it like a moth to a veld fire. Her ultimate ambition in life is to become a travelling chocolate writer of international fame.

Such is the inconsistency of the chattering classes. Four years ago, dinner tables reverberated with the din of concerned voices over the rise and rise of Jacob Zuma. He was unwieldy, unyieldingly yielding a machine gun, and his animal skins and love of women in a lets-marry-them kind of way, gave these people the creeps.

As a reporter, you couldn’t go near a stranger talking about the topic without them shooting their mouths off about it at you.

Many were willing to be blind to Thabo Mbeki’s Aids denialism (which had their wagging tongues too) and endure him for a few more years if it would keep Zuma out of the Union Buildings.

Old Mshini Wam (as he was derogatorily called by Mbeki’s fans in the ANC back then) got into power, the world didn’t end, and the buzz continued.

Less than a year into Zuma’s presidency, it emerged that things didn’t go so killingly anymore for young lion Julius Malema, whose ANC Youth League is now almost openly supporting Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe to take over from Zuma at the ANC’s elective conference in Mangaung next year.

Only on Thursday did the League issue a statement in which spokesman Floyd Shivambu, who with the organisation’s top five leaders will face disciplinary steps next week, agreed almost too eagerly with Motlanthe’s call that the International Criminal Court should probe the loss of civilian lives in Libya due to Nato action. (So far Zuma couldn’t say or do anything right about Libya in the League’s opinion.)

The measured, intellectual and mysteriously monkish Motlanthe is now the president of choice for many of the middle classes. Even so, they are now cheering as the one guy who could have made this happen – Julius Malema – is slapped with charges by the ANC. Moreover, these charges related not so much to objective ethics and morals as to internal ANC matters – and since when was the bourgeoisie worried about the state of the ruling party’s housekeeping?

It doesn’t make sense. They should be cheering, or at least be condemning the charges for what they are – part of a political game.

There’s the red-faced Botswana charge (the League proposed nothing illegal, such as a violent overthrow of the government), and charges for Malema’s constant comparing of Zuma with Mbeki (this was the charge that got him convicted last time, and not the Eugene Terre’Blanche one which strained social cohesion a bit), his calling those who charged him last year “factionalists” (bad one for the ANC, but why would anyone outside the party care), storming into a meeting of the ANC’s top six (see previous comment), and calling whites “criminals” who “stole” our land before the elections (this is the only one that’s really relevant to the bigger question of nation-building, although the charge could also be because he scared off the minority vote).

Again, you can’t go anywhere without some chatterer shooting their mouths off about the topic of Malema.

Instead of employing some reason and getting the youngster to work in their favour, the chattering classes lose it because they are so cheesed off with Malema for wanting to raid their Sandton fridges, nationalise everything except his own assets, and shoot the Boers.

Malema is likely to get charged next week (barring a miracle bigger than ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe’s tummy) and suspended for a year or two, or possibly five, and Zuma will live to see another term at the helm of the ANC and the country. The chattering classes would be glad to see Malema defeated (although they’ll surely be punished with dullness henceforth) and Zuma would be glad to have survived, again.

But that’s politics. And once politics enters, principle flies out of the window.

This won’t make your hands wring and your heart bleed too much if you consider it this way: that, in their daily working lives, most people simply do things to get results, not because they’re good or evil.

That’s why the chattering classes would endure a philandering lame duck president before they go for a young guy threatening to incite the masses to grab their land and cheese.

The current ANC leaders also had their own interests in mind when they suspended discipline to get Zuma elected in Polokwane in December 2007, even if they’re crying about it now.

The next 16 months will be interesting. Even if, by next week, Zuma successfully neuters Malema and sends him into political exile to China for five years, there are enough policy frictions within the ruling alliance to make it a worthy part two to the drama that was the road to Polokwane.

So I’m rather fortunate to have had Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations thrown at me the other day while I was rambling on about inherent good and evil.

The Roman emperor and philosopher wrote his Meditations while on a military campaign. “When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own—not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine.”

He goes on to say he cannot be injured by any of these people, because “we are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature, and it is acting against one another to be vexed and turned away.”

(The Emperor also preached the irrationality of sexual passion in his books, but let’s be inconsistent and not go there because Bill Clinton was also said to have been a fan of his work.)

So as the first twists and turns of the roller coaster ride to Bloemfontein next year creeps into our tummies, best keep the head cool. It might not save the world, but at least we’ll keep our clothes on, even if they’re 100% Malema T-shirts. DM



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