President Jacob Zuma’s statement that the ANC comes before South Africa has set many tongues wagging and rightly so because as a first citizen he is expected to say things that affirm rather than undermine the country’s constitution. Although this infamous statement was made as part of Zuma’s efforts to endear himself to his party’s members it has caused a great deal of consternation to those outside the ANC.
With his divisive style of leadership Zuma has created a line of insiders and outsiders amongst members and non-members of his beloved ANC. While insiders like Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba rush to the president’s defence, outsiders like me are left mulling over the utterances of a man who treats the rest of us like his unwanted stepchildren. It is clear that the president would want nothing better than if all of us were members of the ANC so that we could dance to his favourite umshini wam and stop being so critical of his leadership.
But that will not happen because, unlike him, we think that South Africa comes before the ANC and we love it more than the ANC or any other political party, for that matter. We think that patriotism should triumph over partisanship, ethnocentrism or any other denominator. It is a pity then that our ruler has such a warped view of things. Minister Malusi Gigaba tells us that the president made the offending statement in his capacity as the leader of the ANC.
In other words he was wearing a cap that allowed him to say something that tickled the ears of party loyalists and the rest of us should just buzz off, as the youth would say. The president had a goal in making this divisive and unpatriotic statement but I am not sure if he achieved it. His goal was to make sure that he reminds all South Africans that they owe their very peaceful existence to the ANC and therefore we should remain beholden to his party.
For instance a person receiving a social grant would easily think that his grant money will be discontinued if the ANC were to lose power. In other words he gets this social assistance from the party and not the state and other parties do not care for him as much as the ANC does. And so we see the continuation of a paternalistic attitude like that of the late President Hastings Banda of Malawi.
Banda ruled his country for over 30 years because he kept telling Malawians that they were like children who could not govern themselves. In other words he was doing them a favour by governing them. Zuma’s version is not too dissimilar. He said that if there was no ANC then black South Africans could have remained opressed forever. In other words no one had the ingenuity and know-how to liberate South Africa except his political party.
Therefore we should kowtow to them and stop acting like ungrateful children. Well I am grateful about the past but extremely apprehensive about the future under Jacob Zuma. I am apprehensive because he has insulated himself from everyone except members of his own party. He has kept his gaze on gaining legitimacy within his own political party while losing credibility amongst ordinary South Africans.
He has not become a conciliatory figure and the father of the nation we all expect him to be. In fact I would say he is a liability not only to his own political party but to the country at large. If anything he is reminder of why we should continue to pray for those who occupy leadership positions.