Opinionista Steven Boykey Sidley 29 August 2016

To What End the Game? Of Power and Narcissism

It might be straightforward if it were simply a matter of money (kleptocratic presidencies are as old as governance itself). But there seems to be more to it than that.

Like most people I know, including pundits, journalists and wonks, I have trouble seeing beneath the surface of the shark-chummed red ocean that colours our nation’s recent political catastrophes. Other than the obvious fact that the subversion of noble ideals and good governance are now firmly and irrevocably off the table (at least for the foreseeable future), I continue to be troubled by a single question – to what end? Zuma and his backers, brokers, patronees and indentured servants – to what end this lurid abuse of power?

It might be straightforward if it were simply a matter of money (kleptocratic presidencies are as old as governance itself). But there seems to more to it than that. Consider the facts. The Zuma cabal has been enriched by an unabated stream of state money from our fiscus for more than eight years. From Zuma down, through the scores of enriched NEC members, MPs, state officials, local officials and their crooked counterparts in business, the breathtaking extent of the larceny is well-recorded, even as we suspect that we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

The Zuma looting machine has been so efficient that it is hard to believe that the accumulation of wealth for those with connections has as much cachet as it did when the cadres were more modestly endowed, back when Zuma came to power. There are also entirely believable rumours of vast stores of cash squirrelled away by Gupta-friendly forces in Middle Eastern countries where financial oversight is nodded and winked into insignificance. So I propose that money is not the driver – they all have enough for whatever material comforts strike their fancy, with plenty left over to luxuriate many generations of their heirs.

So what else? Power, the other great aphrodisiac that is attached to wealth, is also unlikely to be a goal, although it may well be a means. Some men seek power for posterity. But that’s not it, because Zuma (and those in the party who have looked the other way) know that posterity will have no kind memories of this administration. Zuma’s posterity is lost, and his legacy will be one of a king of thieves. He knows it well; he clearly doesn’t care. It is for this life he connives, not for the one to come.

But power is a smooth lubricant for more pressing goals. Let me suggest just two.

The President has faced and avoided more than 700 charges of fraud and other financial malfeasance. He knows full well that a rerun of the charges in the courts would be likely to see him in prison. Incarceration and shame are the antithesis of power. And if he can stack judges, placate legislators, buy patronage, and overt the mountain of evidence on record, he may well avoid this. It is money that would fuel this power, and it is this power that could close that threat for good.

Finally, and most likely, is the narcissist’s view of the world which would have Zuma say, “I alone understand the nature of the true transformation we sought. I see it clearly. We have lived under the boot of not only colonialists, but liberalism and clever blacks and the unyielding dictates of democracy for too long. I know what I need, I know what you need. I am king. You will let me rule as I see fit.”

Remember what he said in July of this year: “If you just give me six months to be a dictator, things will be straight.” This was reported with a sigh and a shake of his head.

And here we are.

That is the end for which great and unfettered power is a precondition. The dreams of the great narcissists and dictators like Trump, Berlusconi, Mugabe, Erdogan and Zuma. And those small hurdles in his path – a functioning SARS, a governed Treasury, an independent court, an upstanding Public Protector, a free press, an occasional straight-backed ANC appointee – these must be removed with speed and prejudice.

For the good of all. DM


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