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Ramaphosa is not suffering from ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ when it comes to Zuma


Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

There is consternation among the chattering classes as to why President Cyril Ramaphosa is not acting against Jacob Zuma and why he is not being told, for example, not to campaign for the ANC. Surely, Ramaphosa must know that Zuma hurts the ANC and that letting him campaign for the ANC will cost the governing party votes? Potential international investors, as well as foreign governments, are similarly perplexed. What is CR thinking and is there a strategy?

Some may argue that CR is suffering from “Stockholm Syndrome”, a condition that causes captives to develop a psychological alliance with their captors as a survival strategy during captivity.

Allow me to explain. CR was a captive of the captor, Zuma, during the last nine years, since CR was Zuma’s deputy. These alliances, resulting from a bond formed between captor and captive during intimate time spend together, are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims. This syndrome is ostensibly paradoxical because of the fear and disdain an onlooker may feel towards the captors. This last point is certainly what we are experiencing, since onlookers have nothing but disdain for Zuma and his ilk.

Why then is CR acting in this manner? Surely it’s nonsensical to think that CR is acting according to any of the four key components that characterise this syndrome. First, that the captive develops positive feelings towards the captor. But we know that CR does not exhibit positive feelings towards Zuma. Second, that there has been no previous captive-captor relationship. Third, a refusal by the captive to co-operate with police and other government authorities.

The jury is still out on this one but I am fairly certain that if required, CR will co-operate with the authorities since he is interested in clean government and ultimately, a clean ANC. Last, that the captive’s belief in the humanity of their captor, for the reason that when a victim holds the same values as the aggressor, they cease to be perceived as a threat. In our case, if this were to be true, then CR would not have decided to run against the Zuma faction. He did this precisely because he is dead set against the values espoused by Zuma. So I think you would agree with me that it is not Stockholm syndrome.

Another explanation, though, is that CR is playing a game for the long haul. After all, Sun Tzu reminds us in the Art of War that the acme of skill is to defeat the enemy without fighting.

Allow Zuma to campaign because, after all, he did have internal ANC support and CR really does want unity in the party. It was a close race at Nasrec and for CR to simply ignore this would be folly. Furthermore, even as Zuma campaigns and keeps himself busy with the upcoming election, his legal woes are not dissipating. He will ultimately have his day in court and justice will prevail. As for Zuma, this is a desperate attempt at wanting to give the impression that he is still relevant, very much liked and still has overwhelming support out there. Why, because he is under the mistaken impression that President Ramaphosa will somehow be convinced that any legal outcome that says that Zuma will go to prison will not go down well with these so-called supporters. How naïve.

President Ramaphosa cannot do this on his own, he needs our help. Yes, after Zuma’s defeat at Nasrec in December 2017, the relief, the sense of satisfaction, gratification, consummation and contentment was immediately evident in South Africa, the continent and around the world. A new beginning has dawned on the southernmost tip of Africa.

His first State of the Nation address (2018) was a clarion call. President Ramaphosa was basically saying: I cannot do this alone; I need all the help I can get. Civil society, remain ever vigilant and yes, do take my government to court if you feel strongly about a matter. Organised labour, do fulfil your duty towards your members but remain a guiding light in the affairs of the ruling party. The judiciary, your continued contribution in defence of our democracy and Constitution must never waver. Finally, the legislature with all opposition parties, please continue to represent your constituencies to the best of your abilities and do hold me and my party to account. For the cornerstone of our democracy is not only our Constitution but also our multiparty governance system.

All these contributions are the ingredients to what can only be described as a strong democracy. A democracy in which we all together say: “We the people of South Africa, recognise the injustices of our past, honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land, respect those who have worked to build and develop our country, and believes that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.”

CR has come a long way to reach the Union Buildings but we have journeyed the road with him and it is as much our responsibility to see our country succeed.

So, in my opinion, it’s not Stockholm Syndrome but a cunning, sly strategy to free himself from the muddle that’s called Zuma. A lot of guile is still needed if CR is to see this strategy through to its logical conclusion. DM


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