Book Review: When Zuma Goes by Ralpha Mathekga


Useful overview of recent political developments. It’s good to read this type of overview to be reminded of a few historical elements which can easily be forgotten. It also allows one to take a broader view of political developments. On a slight negative note, I actually read the book a little bit too quickly. I hoped for more detail but you can’t have anything. Mathekga bought a number of ideas to the surface, which I’m thankful for. Here are a couple of great insights from the book:

Internal State Capture

ANC party took a very long time to recognise the risk of “internal state capture.” Maybe the ANC still hasn’t recognised this risk? There is a long ANC history and tradition of focusing on external enemies: capitalists, the west and apartheid. When you think about the situation through this lens we can still see this thread in current rhetoric. Zuma’s ANC is constantly focused on external enemies rather than internally on potential problems, forgetting that it’s own institution has been captured.

Overuse of courts delegitimises government

Mathekga notes that globally governments rarely question and review court decisions as regularly as the ANC. He suggests that perhaps this is a technique to win over popular opinion. He concludes that this tactic has the unfortunate consequence of delegitimizing state institutions and it hinders the ability of government to implement policy. It also encourages vandalism of state institutions because people lose respect for government.

I thought this was an interesting conclusion that is separate from the negative impact of Zuma’s actions specifically as an individual.

Anti-west debases actual cultural values

This isn’t new but Mathekga highlights Zuma’s portrayal of corruption as a western phenomenon. Apparently his defense against receiving money from Shabier Shaik was that it was a “gift.” This is obviously a tactic that Zuma uses frequently and it actually gains him support from some who enjoy the “anti-western” sentiment and desire to defend “african cultural values.”

This is an unfortunate portrayal of culture values! Many Zulu people are offended by Zuma’s debasement and misuse of their true culture. It would be great if there was a strong Zulu voice which tries to specifically elevate the positive cultural values and differentiate these from Zuma’s interpretation – maybe this exists, I don’t know?

DA/ANC policy convergence and divergence

In the 2011-2014 period, around the time of the National Develop Plan (NDP) I had noticed the convergence of ANC and DA policies. The DA was sometimes referred to as “ANC-lite”. The DA was also notably less anti-ANC at this stage. Mathekga argues that this was due to the risk of being labelled racist. The DA’s actions brought an almost respectful tone to competitive politics during this period.

Mathekga notices that this convergence caused a backlash from COSATU and the SACP – pulling the ANC away from “centrist politics” towards the left. It’s no surprise that talk of the NDP has fizzled since this point. At the same time SA witnessed the emergence of the EFF, which blew the political convergence trend out of the water.

Suddenly all parties wanted to distinguish themselves as strong individual entities and ensure that there was less association between each other. The DA went very “anti-Zuma.” I’ve increasingly noticed that the DA are less “anti-ANC” which is probably a hopeful tactic to pull fringe ANC supporters and avoid offending the party that they love. This narrative subtlety is a shame because Zuma isn’t necessarily the root cause of SA’s problems. He is potentially just a creation of the political system, the origins of which have been traced back to the Mbeki and Mandela days. *A number of astute political analysts have picked up on this

The EFF’s emergence and it’s calls for radical economic freedom pulled the ANC much further to the left of the political spectrum. This left the DA to appear similar the Mandela/Mbeki ANC and distinguishable from the DA’s slightly more liberal history. Evidence for this trend is provided by Musi Maimane’s tactic to hark back to the Mandela days. From the ANC perspective the national democratic revolution and radical economic transformation are confirmations of the leftist bent. 

Public disobedience

The trend continues to grow. E-tolls was a strong sign of non-compliance. Mathekga argues that South Africa probably needs a lot more disobedience and non-compliance.

The current marches taking place in April 2017 are another dipstick test of public frustration. There is a growing desire to actually vocalise and do something. Whilst I can understand people’s desire to march and I’m supportive of this desire, I continue to ask people that I interact with, “What can we do? What are the options? Are there alternatives to marching”

I hope that marches do have some sort of constructive impact – perhaps they cause ANC MPs to re-think the non-confidence motion against the President? This would be great.

I do however think that there must be other options that cause a more certain positive impact, even if just in isolation. The one solution I’m trialing – more engagement with people that hold different perspectives to mine. The more I engage with people to more I’m reminded that there are so many divergent perspectives in the world. It’s not difficult to get proof – just go on to twitter. While it’s wonderful that people have different perspectives, it doesn’t help if people live in silos, hold incredibly strong opinions, don’t listen to others and expect them to be receptive to your ideas. So I’m doing my utmost to try and understand why people hold the perspectives that they do. I’m sure I’ll learn a thing or too along the way and hopefully these learnings will equip me to better articulate my ideas elsewhere in the future.

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