The Election Brigade: Think Jacob wielding an Axe

So elections are upon us again. Thinking about the glorious year, 1994, means you have to think back 14 whole years. I remember being nine years old and enjoying every minute of the campaigning and going to the polling booth. My parents were both VERY involved with the elections and my mum was actually an officer at a polling booth. She was the first person to vote at that station mind you. I also remember actually being allowed into the polling booth to actually seeing what goes on. I had that whole ink sprayed on my hand (it had quite a nice taste if I remember correctly) and those UV machines were mind-blowing! It would seem that as a nine year old, most of it would have gone over my head but alas, I wasn’t the average nine year old. My knowledge of politics then is probably greater than most peoples’ knowledge today and these people are going to be the ones determining who runs our country! More election stories later – let us go on with what this blog is really about – one PIW (President-In-Waiting) Jacob Zuma.

So much has been said about Mr. Jacob Zuma (Who I’ll refer to as JZ from now on – that will be explained), our apparent heir to the presidential throne of the country. The mere fact that he has been nominated as the preferential candidate for the ANC has caused ripples locally and internationally. Unlike Thabo Mbeki, JZ comes from a completely different background. Yes, he was a hero of the struggle but unlike Mr. Mbeki, he didn’t end up going to university to plonk out a few pieces of paper. Instead of being a diligent student that ate a roti roll every Thursday because the Indian vendor on campus made this delicious beans curry, he instead went to what a t-shirt I have refers to as “The School of Hard Knocks.” He also doesn’t smoke a pipe – well not the European styled one at least! Whereas a proper president like George W Bush has a single wife who he loves and cherishes, he prefers to spread this love around collecting a wife every twelve months or so. He also seems to spread his love hygienically with his use of a shower after any love spreading sessions. He also had a “generally corrupt relationship” with convicted corrupteer Schabir Shaik. He also has a voice that’s better than any of the Idols contestants. Quite a colourful individual don’t you think? Almost as colourful as a guy who is anti-establishment, was once a boxer and even divorced his wife and married the ex-wife of a friend of his – wait, that was another president of ours!

This rainbow of colour has meant that a whole bunch of disgruntled disgrunts have a huge problem with him assuming the throne to rule our glorious land. His lack of moral culture is not what our country needs – we need a president that will have a perfect moral standpoint to guide us through this troubled time where the world’s economy has collapsed and whilst trying to boost the calibre of our country, we need measures that will keep the country from collapsing. Basically, a NEPAD on steroids that will allow South Africa to gain a mythical status of a country that left the Third World and entered the First World in under 20 years. I think somewhere included in these hopes is details on how to build an anti-gravity machine and start a colony on Europa.

So, a man like JZ can’t do this? Why can’t he? Is it because he sings and dances after each speech he makes? Is riling up a crowd not allowed? Does a good president just nod and accept? Or does a good president merely make up a catch-phrase that drives people to sing and dance? Wait…hmmm, that’s not right. It’s quite clear – JZ is a people’s president. Much as Barack Obama has won the hearts of everyone around the in his country, JZ does the same in South Africa. He is a populist and he is there to give the people what they want – wait, not want; need. And he is doing this using techniques used by a lot of successful people – he is selling the JZ brand. Let’s look at the simple abbreviation of his name. Although it has no connotation to the rapper, JZ is catchy and easy on the mouth no matter what your mother tongue maybe. Instead of using his name, he has a nickname – much like so many famous people e.g. Bono. His lifestyle is analogous to so many rich and successful people – so many corporate moguls and royalty lead a hedonistic life filled with pleasure yet they quite successfully are able to run countries and companies that are several times the size of small countries. His entourage is made up of the latest Black BMW’s which is THE car of choice of the hub of Africa – Gauteng. He has his own theme song like a wrestler does and his speeches mesmerise much like a preacher. He is a brand and people like brands – deep down, you want to be like the head of, let’s say a premium-watch brand and have a yacht in Monte Carlo and a llama farm in Peru. You also want the house that you see on MTV Cribs and even deeper down, you would love throwing a party for your 16 year old like the one’s they throw on “My Super Sweet 16.” He’s not going to turn down anything materialistic like Ché Guevara did. So why question the moral fibre of someone who is merely living that dream?

Another issue around JZ is the apparent hunger for power as perpetuated by our national jester, affectionately known as JuJu. Back at the famous ANC National Convention in Polokwane held just over a year ago, Thabo Mbeki was ousted from the leadership. A few months later, he was removed from the presidency. This was hailed by critics as a low-point in our democracy. It’s so unprecedented that your president is removed from office. It’s a disgrace! What was clear was that the ANC took a hard-line on hunger of power and not conforming to what the policy for the country was. Back in 1994, the ANC promised a “Better Life for ALL,” which has turned into a better life some, albeit a rather huge “some” and a life still filled with poverty for others. Post-1994 has brought a life that is magnificent for this “some” – the sheer choice that we as South African’s have is astounding. We have one of the world’s most progressive constitutions. Career wise, we can become whatever we want and excel in it. We have the world’s best cricket and rugby teams. We have access to countless services offered by Europe and America. We can buy the latest and greatest in technology and some of our leading technology companies are consulted with before products are given the green light for the international market. We have been given the freedom to become insanely rich. So rich that members of the South African public are able to buy Aston Martins and make South Africa the third (or is that second) largest market for Aston’s in the world.

However, we also have one of the fastest growing rates of discrepancy between the have and the have-nots. We have an economy that brings such luxury to the high-classes but at the same time means that more and more beggars appear at the robots at your favourite intersections. The economy has built a hugely successful middle-class that can excel and quickly move to the lower rungs of high society but this has not filtered down into the townships on the edges of the city or the rural settlements in Limpopo. I’ve seen with my own eyes the closing down of so many “corner shops” run out by small-to-medium enterprises. Drive to a small town in Mpumalanga and you probably will end up eating at a Nando’s or Mochacho’s chicken outlet. The local shops don’t exist anymore and neither do their suppliers as the contracts for materials provided to these chain stores are coming from another enterprise that’s selling products nationwide and making a huge profit. Although these enterprises provide work, the workers are paid a pittance and the owner is the one that is benefiting the South African dream. And so the knock-on effect goes on – as there are none of the local shops open, people aren’t given a choice of where to buy and they are now forced to buy from a chain store with inflated prices. But this pittance of a salary is nowhere close to allow them to have a decent life. As a result, the person stays in below that poverty line even though life has been made “better.”

What JZ is bringing, with help from the SACP and COSATU, is a hope to the downtrodden people. It’s a way to undo these wrongs brought to these people that weren’t actually brought about apartheid but brought about through measures to better the county. I’m not saying that the policies since 1994 haven’t been good – au contraire, they’ve allowed our country to bloom like nobody could have predicted (not even Eskom!) It’s now time for the country to bring everyone that promised life.

Let me just digress and give you another election story. During the last elections, I was an observer at a polling station near my residence in Durban. A couple walked in along with one of the couple’s parents – an elderly woman. This elderly woman wasn’t really clued up about politics and basically was there to just cast her vote (as a real citizen should) as a way to vary her day. Listening to her being so non-coherent about the ballot and not even knowing what was on the ballot made me think to myself – democracy is a farce. Here I am, with so much more knowledge about making a choice on that ballot paper yet my vote counts exactly the same as hers. That seems like a terrible injustice – placing the fate of our country in the hands of someone that obviously knows nothing about it.

My election story above was what I thought about when coming up with the ideas for this blog. Why democracy works is because it takes into account every soul in this country. Even the elderly lady without any political knowledge is amounted the same rights in this country. She may not be able to comprehend the magnitude of what it is to vote, but she does deserve a life with access to clean water, a pension to survive on and the right to live in a dignified way. What you make of that life beyond that is dependant on you and is helped out by all the favourable laws passed since 1994. However, there are still people who are not living a dignified existence. THAT is what JZ is bringing to the table – a right to a dignified existence. Actually, it’s not JZ, but the ruling party, the ANC. We’ve seen it happen that Mbeki was ousted for not acting in a way that is good for the country so there is no reason that JZ could be ousted if he strays too far from this path (Maybe I’m wrong but I really do hope I am right on this!!!) The ultimate aim here is to have a country where the ALL people are happy. It’s not only the people that shop at Woolworths Food that must be happy. It must encompass those workers from Woolworths Foods, their extended family and the communities of their extended families. The unions are up in arms with news of the countless retrenchments in the resources industry because this is denying people a right to a dignified existence. Yes, big business needs to take whatever measures required to avoid bankruptcy but this MUST be balanced by the cost it has on people. It’s also why the unions are at war with Trevor Manual even though so many businesses love him. The upper classes, classes that sometimes believe that they have rights outstripping those of the lower classes, have been amazingly catered for in the last 15 years and now, it seems it’s time for the lower classes to have their day.

Now, if you remember the beginning of this blog, I detailed how JZ is a rock-star with questionable morality. I can’t agree with him on the moral grounds – it really is impossible for me to do so. But being that rock star that he now is, is so important – he commands the worship of a rock star exactly the way you may idolise a real rock star. He is the rags-to-riches hope that millions of South Africans need to allow them to believe that tomorrow will be a better day. He may be a flawed individual but at the end of the day, he is going to deliver just as you know that your favourite band will deliver when you see them in all their glory on stage whilst doing what they do best.