Smear campaigns are unfortunately part and parcel of most political landscapes across most countries which contest democratic elections.
Running dirty tricks campaigns have become intrinsic to a candidate’s campaign, whether at their own hands, or their backers or by a partisan media.
In a world where the discernment between fake news and facts is becoming trickier to traverse and more so in a mass media consumption culture which engages media at a rapid pace (in sound bites), the damage a headline or tweet can do is real.
Perception and not reality or even common sense holds sway and entrenches popular narratives even if they are devoid of the truth. Their design is to mislead and scupper.
In South Africa, we are all too familiar with, for example, race-baiting in not just politics but in our everyday lives.
So it is unsurprising that we are reminded in every news dispatch that ANC presidential candidate (and by extension candidate for president of the Republic of South Africa) Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma is “Zuma” in political consciousness, in her values, in her ideology and all the negative connotations with her race to become the ANC president in December 2017.
The “ex” tag is a dismissive, disrespectful attack perpetrated by individuals who have no regard for women and more important no regard or respect for her as a competent politician with an impeccable track record.
The one issue most commentators have questioned her ability and position on is that of corruption within the state and society in general. She has been unambiguous, but her remarks have fallen of deaf hears, because of the messenger and stigma some media houses have attached to her. Lets remind ourselves of her remarks over the past several months on corruption.
“Firstly, it takes away resources from people who need it.
“Secondly, corruption erodes trust between government and citizens and must be dealt with. All types of corruption, even the one rife in the private sector.
“People can accuse me of many things, but not corruption. I’m not corrupt and I don’t loot.”
The second matter she continues to highlight in her speeches across the length and breath of SA is the need to focus on youth and their aspirations as the next generation of SA leaders, again she is clear and precise.
“Young people must have the biggest stake in the future.”
Funding youth entrepreneurship and access to finance for young people was a big problem, saying that financial institutions need to understand society.
“Not everyone has collateral.”
Let’s remind ourselves of the service she has rendered to her country after 1994 – in Nelson Mandela’s Cabinet she was South Africa’s Minister of Health. Dr Dlamini Zuma introduced the Tobacco Products Amendment Bill in 1999, which made it illegal to smoke in public buildings. Today we frown upon people who smoke in public places, and rightfully so.
She was later to serve as Minister of Foreign Affairs (from 1999 to 2009), under both President Thabo Mbeki and interim President Kgalema Motlanthe.
She then served as Minister of Home Affairs from 10 May 2009 until 2 October 2012 in President Jacob Zuma’s Cabinet.
Home Affairs was in an abject state and Dr Dlamini Zuma won many plaudits for turning around a woeful and mismanaged department.
Under her watch, Home Affairs achieved its first clean audit in more than a decade and a half. In July 2012, Dr Dlamini Zuma became the first woman to be elected by the African Union as its chairperson. She was also the first southern African to hold the position.
She stepped down earlier this year as African Union chair. Her contribution toward the freedoms we enjoy today should not be shrugged off either. But yet the personal attacks in the media continue unabated.
She has been named and shamed in the media for being aloof and a difficult customer when it comes to dealing with journalists, reportedly insisting on being called Dr Dlamini Zuma. Identity is crucial to any candidate’s campaign and to attack her for insisting on what she prefers to be called is churlish at best and at worst, childish.
So what if she is disliked by the media? Will this prohibit her from being an adequate president able to take our country forward? Patriarchy coupled with an intense desire to see her not succeed will continue to drum the beat that she is a proxy for Jacob Zuma, irrespective of her own abilities and her astuteness as a politician and a nation builder. Coupled with her forthrightness on economic transformation for black people, land for black people, access for black people, these responses sit uneasily with many white South Africans, sadly.
And while it is accepted that there are many Dr Dlamini Zumas in the making in our society, there is still a huge chasm in how women’s role in shaping our history and how women are shaping a future South Africa is documented and told as opposed to how history still favours the male bias.
If she does ascend to the presidency, let us hope that she is seen as her own person and not someone’s former this or ex that.
She has earned her right to sit at the top table, out of her own volition and not because a man said she could. DM
Jessie Duarte is Deputy Secretary-General of the ANC