Jon Cayzer
Jon Cayzer

Insurgents closing in on Zuma, he’ll be gone by 2014

The opposition’s motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma coincided with the Shakespearean fall of CIA director David Petraeus. Both Zuma and Petraeus know about modern insurgencies. Petraeus wrote the US Army counterinsurgency strategy handbook when America was losing her wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Zuma, with less success, is trying to fight off democratic insurgents.

I draw a comparison between Petraeus and Zuma because both of their careers were marked out by the soldier’s unquestioning observance of hierarchy and iron discipline; not democracy and dissent. Zuma, we forget, was a product of the banned ANC’s hard-line security apparatus built on the totalitarian logic of Stalinism.

This is why, despite working for the other side, I could not help but feel a brief twinge of pity for the hapless president two weeks ago. For two excruciating hours, he was bombarded by the opposition insurgents lobbing rhetorical cluster bombs at him.

So, last week, I stood in the balcony above the Speaker’s chair when the chamber was empty. I think it is important when you work for the other side to always put yourself in the opponent’s shoes.

The raised lectern from where the president, ministers and MPs speak is dead centre between the government and opposition benches. The opposition leaders and MPs sit off-stage, on the right hand side of the horseshoe-shaped forum.

The layout should benefit the president. As he remains on his feet for the entire session, he is spared the awkward bobbing up and down of a British prime minster at question time in the House of Commons. Nor does he have to twist his back awkwardly to hear questions from his own side. Zuma should, in normal conditions of war, be able to dominate the scene; to use it, in Theodore Roosevelt’s term, as his wonderful “bully pit” of the nation.

Setting and style aside, what about the substance?

Last year, I briefly worked alongside a former civil servant who helped prepare former British prime minister Tony Blair for question time. In Britain, the prime minister faces the ordeal for 30 minutes at midday every Wednesday. He told me how, when he went to Downing Street on Tuesday evenings, Blair, with lawyer efficiency, meticulously laid out indexed cards on the cabinet table with the questions that had been tabled.

A simple index binder is prepared for every prime minister with, what Margaret Thatcher called, “killer facts”. Thatcher, as Blair did, made a point of finding out where each MPs policy and personal interests lay. Insurgents rarely laid a punch on them. On the rare occasion they did, it was to devastating effect.

As I watched Zuma on television, I wondered who was helping him prepare his binder of “killer facts”. Then I realised: no one has written Zuma’s counterinsurgency strategy to adjust to the changing nature and methods of the modern democratic insurgencies.

My sense is that he is not briefed by political advisers. You could cut the president’s speeches up with a pair of scissors and see the staple lines dividing each department’s submission. No “heads of argument” is threaded through them. In the same way, when opposition questions are tabled, civil servants from the relevant departments submit procedural answers to the presidency shorn of any political or policy context.

He lacks someone of the calibre of Professor Jakes Gerwel, who passed away today and who helped Nelson Mandela personify national magnanimity and reconciliation through parse words. Or further afield, to the US, a Peggy Noonan figure to help him chisel out a few simple themes wrapped up in powerful prose.

Noonan crafted some of Ronald Reagan’s most famous lines that played up his fabled honeyed delivery. When the space shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986, a million school boys and girls dreams might have crashed to Earth amid the twisted shards of metal, glass and vaporised astronauts. But no! What person of my generation will forget Reagan’s magnificent peroration in his television tribute: “We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God’ “.

A president’s words matter in times of national tragedy. Zuma was especially vulnerable to the insurgents this past August because he failed to muster the words to reassure a stricken nation after Marikana. He knew that the tragedy bore deep into the soil and plates of the country’s collective memory of exploitive mineral extraction and human suffering.

Zuma is also blindsided by the opposition’s lack of what South African political scientists call “etiquette”. In the traditional Zulu culture of northern KwaZulu-Natal, it can be career limiting to push back against an authority figure or elder.

Women too are routinely treated as subservient vassals. Rian Malan in his review of American journalist Douglas Foster’s After Mandela deliciously retells how Zuma’s daughter, Thuthu, confided to the author that not only could she could not name more than half of her father’s children, but that she suffered “a precipitous demotion in status” when visiting Nkandla.

So this is it: Zuma never found an authentic voice. Even if he had, there was no political message to communicate. Above all, he failed to adjust from the dissent-crushing Stalinist machine of the ANC mission-in-exile to today’s fog of war: noisy democracy. Those damn pesky insurgents – especially the women – won’t let up.

The insurgents are not linked and some don’t like each other: opposition leaders, judicial figures, at least one former president, churches, Zackie Achmat, a Nobel prize-winning archbishop, journalists, former friends and — perhaps most lethal of all — are, what I style, the ANC’s “Knights Templars”. These knights will, I predict, fight to the last in 2013 to prevent the ANC being smashed to smithereens.

The insurgents are closing in on Zuma now from all directions. He’ll be gone soon.

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    • Kwena

      Good piece of writting and observation indeed. Our president needs a great political adviser/s for him to “score” in parliament. His lack of “finishing punches” and lack of words in times of need is really worrying. Instead, he gets emotional when asked about his compound. As a former commander of the MK, one would think he is a great strategist. The anc is letting itself down by not giving the president ammunition to load his uMshini. Give this man capable people who will advise him properly and write great speeches for him.

    • Gavin

      A man who truly loved the ANC would see the incoming insurgents and realise what this is doing to his beloved organisation. He would pass over the reigns of leadership and then try distance himself from the organisation to avoid tainting it with the fallout in the unavoidable explosion.

      On the other hand, a man who loves being in charge will cut and slash anyone who gets close. He will charge forward, trying to ignore the insurgents. Brave and Strong. Ignoring the approaching calamity. Eventually his ride will collapse and the ANC flag will be left trampled in the dust.

      I fear this president will adopt the second route. I wonder how he will be remembered in years to come.

      I am also amazed at how many ANC members follow the personality cult, ignoring the impact that this is having on the organisation. I think a lot of ANC members struggle to differentiate between the organisation and the leader of the organisation.

    • Meyer

      Good thoughts, but this is Africa. Not sure whether UK & US politics serve as much of a precedent.

    • croix

      @ Kwena#
      At the same time, find some elders/groups of advisors/teachers of basic human decency and simple morals to take him back into a sort of “finishing school” of life.
      You know, that stuff about : only tell the TRUTH and be HONEST at all times??

    • Heinrich Becker

      It never ceases to amaze me how we, as ordinary South Africans, so easily allow the management of our country to slide into this quagmire of soapy intrigue where the personal aspirations of politicians become the focus, rather than the nation and the country.

      We are a ballgame nation, but when it comes to leadership, we take our eyes off the ball and suffer the consequences. This way, we are building a nation of losers. Will our descendants ever forgive us?

    • I told you so

      Good piece of writing. We forgget that there are probably legions of decent people in the ANC who are horrified by the spectacle playing out under Zuma “leadership”. Watching him plod his way through prepared speeches is painfully embarrasing. He simply lacks the intellectual firepower for the job of president of a modern country and is plainly more comfortable in the world of patriarchal, old-world rural Kwazulu. After 100 years of struggle it is sad that this is the best the ANC has to offer.

    • Aberudder

      And to quote the paragon of open minded thinking Rian Malan…really? You want to be taken seriously?

    • Boxer

      2014 is not nearly fast enough

    • The Creator

      Right-wing white Democratic Alliance fantasist strikes again!

      Mr. Keyzer’s Reagan-worship unfortunately hasn’t encouraged him to become familiar with American political discourse. The famous remark by President Theodore Roosevelt was that the Presidency was a “bully pulpit”, by which he meant, an excellent place from which to deliver political sermons.

      The idea that Zuma was a disciplined person, loyal to the cause, has turned out to be untrue. Zuma was an externally disciplined person, who did his work well when he was monitored by stern father-figures like Tambo and Mbeki. The moment that he was free to do what he wanted to do, after he was fired from the Deputy Presidency, his lack of any self-discipline or sense of responsibility ensured that he became a destructive force within the ANC and has been so ever since.

      This is what he has in common with the comic figure of General Petraeus, the incompetent death-squad commander who has lost his job because he thought that the Military Code of Justice and the unwritten rules governing the behaviour of CIA personnel didn’t apply to him.

      Unfortunately, Zuma is in control of the situation now, and so he will win at Mangaung, and because the ANC is still the only possible choice for most South Africans, he will win the election in 2014 and will take eight out of nine provinces. Unfortunately, because Zuma’s bad policies will ruin things. But then, the DA has copied his policies, so they offer no alternative.

    • Dave Harris

      Utter delusional thinking coming from a washed up writer for Buthelezi and his IFP – apartheid collaborators!!

      What you fail to understand is that SA is not the US or UK nor do our leaders wish to mimic them! Your heroes, that senile Reagan and cuckoo Thatcher , who are now both sweating it out in their afterlife in that special place reserved for warmongers and oppressors of indigenous people. Reagan and Thacher were puppets that only represented the interests of the 1%.

      Africa, China, India, South America…pretty much most of the world does does not adhere to the gutter politics propagated by corporate mainstream media. You may need to be reminded that we live in Africa not some colonial outpost that you long for, so your desire for President Zuma to speak the queen’s english is as insane as your delusional desires to see him disappear! LOL

    • Frans Verloop

      “The insurgents are closing in on Zuma now from all directions. He’ll be gone soon”
      Jon, I takes a brave man to give a hostage to fortune, but I hope you are right.

    • Chrips

      Dave Harris, ROTFL

    • african lover

      the question is, will he let go nicely -with not so nice prospect of prosecution- or will he fight to the end? An indemnity clause for former presidents might help as nothing could be worse than the fierce fighting of a dying horse with all the risks involved

    • Gavin Storrie

      Dave Harris. You regularly bemoan personal attacks but you practise personal attcks all the time. Your version of debate is to pile on insults and never deal with the argument. Any point of view that differs from yours is rubbish merely because it is not yours. I say again Stalin, Goebels, Chairman Mao, Mugabe, Cromwell – the list goes on – would welcome you into their company.

    • Paul Whelan

      It is likely President Zuma will be gone soon, agreed, but it depends on what we see as soon. Some time shortly after 2014, when it can look reasonable, rather than at Mangaung?

      The ANC cannot afford more signs of instability or desperation at this time. A possibility is to dump Mr Motlanthe and bring in Mr Ramaphosa as deputy. That could give Zuma a longer lease as president, with Mr Ramaphosa running things and coming into line to lead the 2019 elections and his own bid for president.

      We’ll see.

    • Mdizman

      Sadly for the minorities in cahoots with the media Pres. Zuma is not going anywhere for the next five years.Unlike ex-Pres. T Mbeki he will serve 2 full terms. Wishful thinking, assumptions and hopes of him stepping down can never turn into a reality.Pres Zuma`s current position as the peoples democratically elected President is not contestable by anyone in their right mind. If wishes were horses beggars would be riders.

    • Loudly South African

      I don’t think you should be comparing Jacob 783 and David Petraeus. Petraeus spent a life serving his country and when his ONE affair came out, had the good taste to resign.

      The less said about the other one, the better. Leave that to Dave Harris.

    • Analyst

      “Above all, he failed to adjust from the dissent-crushing Stalinist machine of the ANC mission-in-exile to today’s fog of war: noisy democracy.” I think this observation is right – basically, that the skills and methods needed to be a ‘leader’ in a Stalinist, communist organisation are completely different to that needed in a democracy, and it shows in what Zuma is good at, and what he is weak at. The Stalinist leader does not need to debate, convince, or influence based on principles, values or right and wrong. He needs to intimidate and bully, using threats and his intelligence file of all the crimes and misdeeds of his peers. He needs to bribe and dispense patronage, dangling jobs and contracts in front of people for their support. He needs to watch his back the whole time and see enemies everywhere, as this is the essence of the Stalinist party regime, and destruction of threats real or imagined using state security apparatus is his bread and butter. These are all skills that are clearly well mastered by the current leadership. The need to openly debate ideas, and to influence people based on matters of principle, cause total puzzlement and bewilderment, as these are concepts completely alien to Stalinists. Hence it is hardly surprising that certain leaders are so weak in these areas, but more importantly, they treat these ideas of normal democracy with such contempt.

    • The Creator

      Loudly South African, do you actually know anything about what a corrupt, self-serving, incompetent blowhard Petraeus is?

    • Jon Story

      @Gavin Storrie

      I see you take Dave Harris to task which imho is a complete waste of time.

      The same Harris was pontificating the other day: ‘Over the years however, I’ve ceased to cast judgement…’ (do you give to beggars)

      I have met a few DH in my life who were convinced of being right all the time. Short on valid arguments, long on pointing fingers while denying being judgemental.

      The usual story of the splinter and the beam.

      Better ignore this stuck record.

    • Leonard

      Not surprising that Harris has such a problem with Reagan and Thatcher. Both were strong, direct leaders who stood up against communists, terrorists and those who pretended to be one thing whilst being something completely different. Leaders like this are a huge threat to those who have always tried to bully and intimidate others, and so far have been able to do so unopposed.

    • Mr. Direct

      @Dave Harris

      Mainstream media: communicates with the voter base, and has it’s uses. Hated because it can expose bad politicians, unjustly or not.

      US and UK: 1st world countries, with problems but much more relevant than SA.
      English: One of the official South African languages, as well as a global language. Yes, I do expect Mr. Zuma to speak it, and well, because he uses it to speak to Foreign Arms Manufacturers, Chinese delegates, and his lawyers.

      Mrs. Thatcher: Still alive, although you would question that to look at her…

      1%: jealousy makes you nasty. I would rather be 1% than the 99%, and I bet you would too.

      Try contribute something positive to the conversation. Do you think Zuma will be out in 2014, and if so, will this be a good or a bad thing?

      I think he will have a full second term, and he and his ANC elite will become very rich at the end, and the voting public will not benefit much.

    • Dave Harris

      @Mr. Direct
      Mainstream media is exemplified by Rupert Murdoch who was singularly responsible with his Fox News in electing and re-electing George Bush that created much of the carnage in the Middle East and sent us into a worldwide recession. So corporate media is not as innocent as you make it out to be. The gutter politics of character assassination, this time with President Zuma, is a way to deflect from the real problems of our country.

      I can’t understand why you say that the US and UK’s problems are “much more relevant” to us. It shows your eurocentric indoctrination.
      btw. Your infantile accusation of me being “jealous” of the 1% is bizarre Is this for real?

      IMHO, President Zuma needs to be more decisive about transformation initiatives like land reform, nationalization, affirmative action etc. Our democracy works differently, so I’ll leave it up to the good people of the ANC to make that determination. Speaking about “ANC rich elite” is disingenuous because its simply a way for the beneficiaries of apartheid to deflect attention from their ill-gotten gains – thanks to centuries of colonialism and apartheid.

    • http://websiteirrelevant Paul

      DA = NP 2.0

      Wake up and smell the coffee. Whites no longer run SA. 1994 doesn’t seem so long ago, eh?

      (Incidentally, I am white, if that matters. It shouldn’t. It doesn’t – to me. But clearly does to the white DAers with their fingertips hanging on the edge of the cliff of privilege.)

      And why are you proud to associate yourself with Tony Blair? He should be in Den Haag for genocide.

    • SkyLukeWater

      Great piece of writing and very open-minded responses, expansive thinking :)
      I don’t think anyone wants Zuma to fail, it’s just that he continues to shoot from the hip – with horrible accuracy…

    • Peter Jordaan

      Yip he will be gone soon .. hopefully to the jail house to spend the rest of his life. The shear focus on personal enrichment has blown the party off its course and it has lost its centre. It has no idea what it is and how to go about solving it. Being desperate they resort to the info bill. will it save them. Not a chance it is just going to push them down the toilet even quicker. Their credibility is gone all over the world. When people have lost everything that the ANC has taken form them then people have nothing t lose and then they lose it. The ANC will be the target, they will be the bulls eye. They have brought it on them selves and so be it.

    • Citizen Mntu

      Very nice set of metaphors in this article. Rich, deep, and playful, with many ways to take ’em.

      Insurgency in South Africa? Ha! Yes. It has a long and much-respected history. Always the insurgents have been the group with conviction, and with an intent cause. And, moreover, they have nearly always won. Indeed, the Big Picture Insurgents (BPIs) have always won their cause, whether we might have considered it honourable or not.

      Dull, entrenched power always falls to a good insurgency. It has nothing but defensive structures and tactics. It has no flexibiity; no mobility. Any old spirit it once had is converted into paranoia. Watch it Zuma; watch it ANC. Your race is nearly run.

    • jandr0

      @Aberudder: You say: “And to quote the paragon of open minded thinking Rian Malan…really? You want to be taken seriously?”

      Are you suggesting that when Rian Malan says something true, it suddenly becomes untrue for the mere fact that it was him that said it?

      Wow. I could call your conception of truth a very immature, undeveloped one (based on, for instance, the Reflective Judgement model), but for now I will just call it a very, very strange conception of the truth.

      Please refer to the logical fallacy commonly known as: “Poisoning the well.” Do you really think the rest of us are so untrained in our reasoning that we don’t pick up fallacies like that? And you want to be taken seriously?

    • jandr0

      @The Creator: You say:

      “Unfortunately, Zuma is in control of the situation now, and so he will win at Mangaung, and because the ANC is still the only possible choice for most South Africans, he will win the election in 2014 and will take eight out of nine provinces. Unfortunately, because Zuma’s bad policies will ruin things. But then, the DA has copied his policies, so they offer no alternative.”

      When I disagree with you, I disagree with you. When I agree with you, I agree with you. (Yes, yes, quite redundant. But done on purpose for effect.)


      This is one of the occasions that I agree you have correctly spelled out the most likely scenario to very high probability.

      I would really like to know why you think that “the ANC is still the only possible choice for most South Africans.”

      PS. I have not read much around the “Petraeus affair.” I’m intrigued to understand why you call him each of “corrupt, self-serving, [and] incompetent blowhard?”

      PPS. FWIW, although I did not fully agree above, if you make some sentences less absolutist, we can probably achieve nearly-full agreement. For example: “But then, the DA has [quite a number of ANC-style] policies, so they offer [somewhat limited policy] alternative[s].”

    • Sinenhle

      What a piece Cayzer. Joel, Gwede and Pallo were the choices for me. If he can sort out the ‘Durban-Boys’ around him.

    • Mr. Direct

      @Mr. Harris

      Thanks for your opinion….