Opinionista Aubrey Masango 20 January 2014

Jacob Zuma and the collective narcissism of the chattering classes

The collective, relentless criticism of Jacob Zuma and his administration, though legitimate and warranted in most cases, reveals an irrational ego-driven agenda, which the development of South Africa can ill-afford at this point of our democratic evolution. Intellectuals, analysts and the chattering classes must look to themselves for an explanation of this state of affairs. A truly civic-minded and humble motivation is required in our criticism of this man and his gang if we are to avoid an ill-considered reactionary discussion with possibly dire consequences for all and sundry. Not out of reverence for him, but for the purpose of an inclusive non-elitist conversation.

There is no doubt in my mind that Jacob Zuma is certainly the worst president this country has ever seen since the dawn of our democratic dispensation 20 years ago. His personal indiscretions with his alleged rape victim, his relationship with Shabir Shaik and the connected corruption are cases in point. His controversial ascendance to the presidency, assisted by political thugs, which saw the unconstitutional removal of Thabo Mbeki plunging South Africa into a constitutional crisis, the full extent of which has not really been appreciated, yet. His questionable sexual immorality with his ‘friend’s’ daughter, his irrational appointment of questionable characters to key institutional positions, the spy tapes, Gupta-gate, Nkandla-gate and all of his unfortunate gaffes about dogs, homosexuals, Jesus, Malawi and women are proof of this. I contend further that criticism about these issues is necessary; it is the civic duty of South Africans. However, it is the motivation behind these criticisms and their often narcissistic and sometimes racist undertones that stifle the discussion.

In most conflicts, people individually or collectively succumb to the seduction of the erroneous notion that ‘my enemies’ enemy is my friend’. It’s understandable, particularly when faced with a formidable opponent, but dangerous in its lack of principle. As a radio talk-show host I’m constantly facilitating discussions, amongst other things, about the dissatisfaction of South Africans regarding Msholozi’s leadership or lack thereof. On the face of it, it may appear that South Africans, black and white (a relatively miniscule group relative to the whole population, by the way), are in agreement, since there seems to be a unanimous chorus of criticism against the man. Some, based on this apparent unanimity of ire against JZ, think this is a signal for the demise of the president. Their assessment could not be further from the truth. In fact, I would go as far as to say that this unanimous but unprincipled alliance of opposition to JZ and his crew could be the ultimate guarantor of his re-election. This contention is based, ironically, on the very criticisms levelled against Msholozi, but more importantly on the reasons, the motivations behind the criticisms and how the greater majority of Msholozi’s supporters understand and interpret those motivations.

My contention in this regard may seem nebulous at best and irrational at worst, but it is this area of ‘irrationality’, which constantly stumps the ‘intellectuals’ about South African politics. It is those very intellectuals and pundits who fuel what I refer to as an exercise in narcissism which threatens the very relevance of these much-needed analysts in public discourse.

Technically sound arguments of cause and effect are usually advanced to make political predictions which are invariably incorrect because as pundits, we generally point to operational ideals of governance, highlight the apparent inconsistencies which occur due to corruption or incompetence and conclude that this must be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. This is the narcissism I’m referring to, an intellectual superiority complex inspired by the arrogance of having read tomes of books without integrating the same intellectuality with the lived experiences of the ‘unlearned’ people on the ground. It is this laziness in thinking and interpretation of South African political realities, embellished with important-sounding words, which often blinds us to the fact that Msholozi may in fact be correct when he says rather glibly, “The ANC will rule forever and ever” and instead of seriously trying to understand the reasoning behind it, however unsophisticated it may seem to our learned minds, we offer nothing but ridicule which does nothing to objectively deepen the discussion for the purpose of liberating our collective minds.

And so we continue to populate liberal cocktail-parties, consume copious amounts of alcohol and finger-bites speaking and comment on middle-class platforms, to equally deluded members of the chattering classes while South Africa is possibly, yet again subjected to sub-standard leadership. We need to objectively understand why the so-called masses will in the face of all the allegations against Msholozi fill a stadium to capacity and not simply assign this behaviour to political sentimentalism or ignorance or whatever dismissive reason we conjure up without due consideration. Furthermore, we must articulate such considered analysis with the sensitivity and eloquence we are all so capable of in order to initiate an inclusive and insightful debate.

Let me deal with what I believe could be conscious or unconscious racist undertones in the collective condemnation of JZ which, on the surface, seems to be racially unanimous but in fact conceals a cultural and even racial superiority complex amongst some of our compatriots. A superiority complex which subtly and cunningly points to JZ’s often inconsistent adherence to his Zulu cultural practices such as his practice of customary polygamy, his lack of formal education and limited powers of oration in English. His badly-written and read speeches and his lack of all other western-style trappings of statesmanship. These seemingly innocuous observations in middle-class “racially integrated” discussions may go unnoticed but for the waiter serving the drinks at such parties, the domestic worker and the messenger at the office, strike a nerve deeply rooted in the history of oppression. It is heard as nothing but the continued subjugation and dehumanisation of black culture by black sell-outs and their white masters.

I am one of JZ’s fiercest critics; I believe he is probably a charming man, but he is the worst choice for a president for such a multi-layered country as South Africa. But I am equally discouraged by the lack of depersonalisation of the argument in criticising him. Especially amongst those who have the means and education to present a fact-driven insightful argument based on the desire to secure an objectively functional country.

As we enter the silly season of the election period, let those of us who influence conversation remember our collective task and duty. That is to stimulate sound, insightful conversation; unencumbered by our own egos, or we may live to regret it. DM


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