Ndumiso Ngcobo
Ndumiso Ngcobo

Are you ‘sensible’ or ‘formerly sensible’ about Zuma?

So the Zuma Tsunami was really unstoppable after all. This is the greatest news ever. Or a national tragedy of calamitous proportions.

Jacob Zuma is one of those individuals who always seem to bring it out in everyone. The passion, I mean. I have yet to meet an individual who shrugged and went, “Zuma? I don’t know. I suppose he’s alright”. I have made this point before but everyone seems to fall into two categories where JZ is concerned:

1. The Zapiro school of thought: JZ is the Beast foretold by Nostradamus 450 years ago.
2. When JZ takes a whizz, shouldn’t there be someone collecting the healing waters?

Most people who fancy themselves as belonging to the nation’s intelligentsia will, of course, vehemently deny harbouring any strong feelings about Zuma one way or the other. It is, after all, rather unintellectual to be emotional about the subject of one’s “objective” analysis. I call such assertions of objectivity green lies.

Zuma has this incredible knack for drawing people out of their shells and forcing them to wear their hearts on their sleeves. I am still in two minds whether he consciously does this. If this is a conscious skill on his part, I hereby declare Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma a genius. Especially since JZ is not known for making public pronouncements on who he favours and who he wishes to see hang by their nads on Mary Fitzgerald Square. And that includes some people who have made it loud and clear how much they despise him. Anyone with a cursory appreciation for the elementary rules of power knows how much this skews the scales in his favour.

I was reminded of this phenomenon while following the recent spat between Jonathan “Zapiro” Shapiro, Karima Brown and Dr Xolela Mangcu in Mondli’s backyard in the last few weeks. It struck me that when Zapiro “outed” those that he deems to be jostling for a good creeping spot up JZ’s colon (Brown, Mangcu, Seepe, Gordin, Jordan, Hlophe, Mpshe et al), he has set up a tantalising match-up between the Formerly Sensibles (Zapiro’s words not mine) and the Sensibles in the next 5 years. Let the games begin.

I am no Zapiro, so I am not in any position to declare who belongs in the Sensibles camp. But I would venture that Tutu, Lekota, Zille, Malala, Makhanya, De Lille, Holomisa, Shilowa et al would not sue me if I said I expected nothing less from them than their full participation on the Sensibles’ side in the impending battle. I believe they have made their views loudly and clearly on this matter.

My first observation is that both sides have accused the other side of suffering from a severe case of herd mentality where Zuma’s sainthood/Satanism (depending on where one stands) is concerned. Each side claims neutrality and accuses the other of holding extreme stances on JZ. For instance, Karima Brown’s brilliantly-worded (let’s admit it) missive in response to Zapiro employed the phrase “herd mentality” to describe the mainstream media’s stance on Zuma. And many such accusations have also flowed out the pens of the Sensibles camp, including that of Zapiro, whose cartoon started the latest skirmish. And I love it when people call each other sheep.

My second observation here is that the Formerly Sensibles have their work cut out for them. I have often observed that, when faced with a conundrum of which side to pick in an intellectual debate, it is probably prudent to pick the more pessimistic side. It is much easier to appear intellectual if you predict doom and gloom because … well, one is likely to be proven right. By show of hands; (and using Ockham’s Razor), what is the likelihood that the very first six months of Zuma’s presidency will not be rocked by some government scandal or the other? Can we agree that predicting a disaster here is a bit like standing on the 1-Star Stop bridge overlooking the N1 in Midrand and predicting a minibus taxi-inspired inferno at some point or the other? Pointing out all the dark blotches on a white canvas is a much easier task than trying to point out the white vastness of the canvas. That’s just how the human brain is wired.

Here is my own prediction of what the next 5 years have in store for us. The next 5 years will not be any better or any worse than the last 15. Triumphant declarations of rampant decay and glorious trumping up of mediocre achievements will be based on Sensibles or Formerly Sensibles’ covert/overt membership. Depending on who you listen to, the Mbeki years were either an unmitigated disaster or a case study in how African governance should work. The macroeconomic indicators were effectively managed while job creation stagnated. Sars optimised tax collection while the fiscal coffers were regularly raided. Significant strides were made in many primary-healthcare KPIs while there was a lot of dilly-dallying in dealing with Aids. Access to poverty-alleviation grants reached previously undreamt-of levels while basic qualitative numeracy and literacy stuttered. South Africa Inc established herself as a major global roleplayer while the parastatals limped from one retarded crisis to the next as Erwin and Co looked on in bemusement.

And so on and so. A typical C-minus report card. Those who thought Mbeki was an insufferable prick with an advanced Napoleon syndrome groaned and turned in an “F”. Those who drank heartily from the fountains of Mbeki juice handed in A-plus report cards. Just the way it is supposed to be. Expecting anything else would have been expecting humans to act in un-human ways. And I expect nothing more and nothing less in the next 5 years. There will probably be some shifts in emphasis, as is in the nature of all new brooms. My brain is too simplistic for the intricacies of governance. For this reason I will not be able to regale you with my dof predictions of where the Zuma Tsunami will thrive and where it will falter. Zuma is neither the messiah nor the beast. Only membership to the Formerly Sensibles or the Sensibles will make people believe one or the other.

The more cynical reader has spotted the gaping hole in this entire analysis. Yes; my own declaration of where I stand on Zuma. If my earlier “green lies” assertion regarding those who claim objectivity on Zuma are accurate, then I must belong to either the Sensibles or the Formerly Sensibles. Let me know what you think.

    (Note: This whole fence-sitting, neutrality scene is underrated in its intrinsic Swiss serenity. You should try it some time.)

[email protected]

  • Themba

    According to your theory I am a Formelrly Sensible,i.e. I am in agreement with the Browns, the Mangcus. I believe Zapiro is a colonial, racist dinasaur ( u see I am a real formerly sensible). Most analysts on this page would like us tobelieve that they are completely objective, so completely Sensible. How pathetic!!

  • Sipho

    Mapholoba, submit a watered down version of this blog to some university and you’d be Dr Ngcobo before Workers Day.If you don’t believe me,listen to the new crop of Drs at the Human Science Research Council,and you’ll realise how standards are progressively dropping. My personal view is that most people (not all) who hate Zuma, they do it because he seems to undermine their education.For them education is all they have and for an “uneducated” person (nogal)to contest in what they consider to be their terrain is unacceptable.Do you honestly find Dr Barney Pityana or Pierre De Vos more intelligent than Zuma, I don’t.

    To me, it’s more like the antelope hating less the one who sees it than the one who sees it and shout its presence.

  • owen

    Thabo was lucky in that he had a booming world economy to ride off. JZ is already unlucky in that he faces a recession and possible depression.

    So to a large degree the JZ canvas has already been painted as he has no real room to move on helping the poor.

    However, Zille or Lekota would have had the same problem had they won the election.

    The next election will tell whether JZ was good or bad.

  • ex-Zimbabwe

    Hey Ndumiso, I love your post and if there’s a space next to you on that fence, save it for me.

    I’m in the unmitigated-disaster camp on Mbeki but you’ll note my user name and hopefully, understand my feelings.

    And I love your blotched-canvas metaphor. “Spot” on (g,d,r) and psychologically astute!

    I haven’t yet found reason to respect Zuma as a man, but I do respect the people of South Africa, who have chosen him. Like many in the ANC, I miss “nation building” and a Government that delivers to the poor or at least tries to walk the talk.

    As for his negative his Press image, it’s his own fault, but I do wonder if there are stories we haven’t been told which might explain the personal devotion that he’s inspired.

    Great leaders can sometimes have great flaws, but if Zuma turns out to be a strong, imaginative leader his flaws won’t concern us. I’d especially like to see him give a strong lead on Zimbabwe, because in the weeks that we’ve been pre-occupied with our Election, Mugabe and his cronies have seized the moment to let loose some (more) hellfire up there.

  • Mark Robertson

    Superb article, insightful and thought provoking. Unfortunately it is hardly augmented by Themba’s comments …I won’t even venture to ask why Zapiro is ‘colonial, racist’ as such lazy and empty epithets with absolutely no intelligence added to back them up are a sign of intellectual paucity. Congrats again on a very wise article.

  • siyabonga ntshingila

    *waits for the point to be missed*

  • http://letpeoplespeakamagama.com Lyndall Beddy

    The trouble is that this is not about the smokescreen of either Mbeki or Zuma. This is not a tribal chiefdomship. This is actually about how the ANC has gone off the rails, if they were ever on them in the first place, even under saint Mandela, who was, after all, president during the arms deal.

  • Jama ka Silwane


    The Zunami certainly has swept through our country and left a tremendous amount of damage, mainly in the integrity of the adverserial Sensible/Formerly Sensible crowds. But to quote that masterful piece of script writing that encompassed the cynical colonial perceptions of AFRICA in the cinematic masterpiece Blood Diamond, T.I.A: THIS IS AFRICA (read: the rules do not apply). In our savage war torn little piece of human hell things operate differently and I think it has been like that since this place was accidentally stumbled upon by Vasco & Co(well SA anyway).

    My belief therefore is that this whole situation, if managed properly by JZ and his Merrimen could very well just blow over. I mean I was a getting my kicks from The Power Rangers when our democracy was born and even then our media’s cynism about the ability of the Black Regime to manage issues of National importance was palpable. So too were the snide comments my teachers and peers(alas children who like me lost their political innocence too early) used to make with relation to our impending doom. But we’re still here. My point? It has taken countless men, an inconceivable amount of time and effort to mould our country into what it is now, good or bad. One man cannot undo their work singlehandedly. So lets just all be reasonable.

  • Madoda

    I have to admit, this is a well written article. I am also a ‘formerly sensible’. To be a sensible you have to arrogantly maintain that the 65% or more than 11 million South Africans who voted for Zuma do so because of “blind” loyalty or have “herd mentality” etc. When I find myself generalising like that when analysing such a large and diverse group, I normally double check my reasoning to ensure that I am not applying steriotypes because I may be lazy to think.Sensible continually stereotype people.

    Intelligent arguements are not persuasive when they rely on hurling insults to opposing views and opponents. As Karima Brown noted, this is just intellectual intolerance. How is this level of reasoning different from Malema’s threat that he was willing to kill for Zuma and him saying that Helen Zille is fake?

    After Zille, Zapiro et al have hurled accusations and insults at Zuma throughout the years, I have yet to hear Zuma return accusations and insults to his distractors in kind. At the heart of the sensibles arguements against Zuma lies irrational and melodramatic fears or phobia (constitution would be changed,corruption will be rampant, non service delivery etc). Fear is the seed of discriminination and hatred.

  • pete ess

    Politics, politics! Is that all you write about?
    I also want your prediction: If Zuma goes OK, how many people will own up to having thought he was a monster in 2007 – 2009?
    Can you hear it? “I always said he wasn’t as bad as people thought”

    You asked, so I predict you’ll come out of the closet as a Sensible if things go pear-shaped and beer reaches R20 a dumpy and thereby matches your beachfront flat’s value.

    (So let’s fervently hope not!)

  • pete ess

    Themba: I truly believe anyone who thinks “the media” or “a cartoonist” have any causal things to do with the running farce that has been the ANC/Zuma/Mbeki/Malema/NPA/Shaik fiasco of the past two years really needs to sit down and have a good hard think.

    Actually THINK about it: When the big man in the village gets drunk and staggers on his way home, tripping and landing on his nose in the cowpoo, should the people pretend they didn’t notice? Are they guilty of treason if they giggle? Did they CAUSE the scandal by telling each other about it?

    Or was the big man himself at fault?

  • http://tsuai.blogspot.com/ Tsuai

    Zuma is now the country’s president and therefore he should expect no mercy from anyone, analyst or journalist alike. He should do himself a favour and not expect journalists to be his praise singers because he is the president. He‘d rather hire an imbongi (praise singer) for that purpose. It’s now time for him to expect more and fierce criticism because he is the number one citizen, but unfortunately for him he has already said & done things that do not bode well for his image, including avoiding the law. I think the next 5 years will be very interesting for analysts, journalists and South Africans in general. Let’s vigilantly wait and see. And while we are at it, we need alert journalists and analysts, not yes men who simply want to line their pockets and not upset the president because they will lose their livelihood and be called counter revolutionaries.

  • Peter Win

    Well Themba, if Zapiro is a colonial racist, then I venture to suggest you are a prickly pear….
    Face up to history man: all South Africans come from a background of colonialism and war – or do you think that the Zulu’s wars with the Xhosa’s wars with the KhoiSan were just a myth??? “Might was right” in those days and some lost. Tough it out and move on – or be a granny and live in the past like the Nats who used to whinge about the Anglo-Boer war.

    Ndumiso – as one of your admiring but cynical readers, I believe that fence-sitting on a South African fence is not good for the health: you end up with barbed wires in a tender portion of the anatomy.

  • Bob the Builder

    economies in the s-term groan on despite governments, not because of them. 5 yrs is too short unless one looks for cracks in ‘maintenance’ of services & infrastructure. ie. more clerks with fingers up the nose; deep litter filing systems; road cracks, increased bottled water sales; graduates who can’t indicate how big 1m is; more fat people in charge

  • Zoo

    Cool column

    I am cautious about JZ. Mangcu has absolutely no idea about legal process but writes about it as if he does which is probably why he expresses the opnions he does: but I don’t think he’s a died-in-the-wool Zuma fan. He should stick to his knitting or get some sort of legal education.

    Brown is a good critic and generally balanced, but so are Malala et al.

    Seepe is hopelessly biased, after all, he was part of JZ’s team in managing the political/media process of the trial.

    My opinions on Zuma are that he is a charming and approacheable man. But whatever personable traits he may have is overshadowed by the corruption trial and the shenanigans that surrounded it.

    In any event, he admitted that he did not pay tax for about 10 years, or even file a tax return. Enough to get a normal citizen a lengthy jail term.

    But legal stuff aside, how can you vote for a person who doesn’t pay tax? A president who doesn’t contribute in the most meaningful (read contribution of personal funds) way to the government he leads?

    Non-payment of his tax for such a long period is enough for me to conclude that Zuma is personally unfit to govern, but would be a wonderful dinner guest!

  • http://amandzing.wordpress.com amandzing

    you should read max du preez’s column on news 24… that’ll help you make your mind up…

  • Old, female, paleface

    I do not agree entirely – with some comments but not with others.
    That is sitting on the fence ? Swaying in the gentle breeze while damaging your posterior ?

    All I can say with absolute certainty, is that any new boss, on any premises whatsoever – will sweep out everything that worked. Including turfing out the baby with the bathwater.
    Provided he is not busy refurbishing and raiding the stationery cupboard.
    All his housekeeping and refurbishing, will then be swept out by the next boss, who knows better, or made more promises – whatever……

  • Paddy

    Being President does not remove any of the great quotes/statements that were uttered by JZ many that Zapiro uses for his satire.

    a shower reduces the chance of aids
    knock down homosexuals that stand in front of him
    lock up pregnant teens
    take R4million + from the Shaiks in exchange for influence and business deals.
    Abuses state institutions (telephone interception) while accusing Mbeki of abusing state institutions

    How is any of this defended?

  • Gert Van Wyk

    Great one, I’m not sure in which category do I fall. The past two years events, the election period, president recalls, load shedding, attacks on poor communities by other community member etc. has taught me valuable lessons. Never ever pick side, never look at your text books what they say about social conflicts but go in the find out what facts are on the ground and then you can make conclusions, right or wrong. Having said that I’m trying hard to be on the fence as long as I can.

  • Sipho

    Zoo aren’t you stretching the truth here. How is it possible that an employed person doesn’t pay tax for 10 years. Which payroll company pays salaries without deducting statutory taxes. Zoo asseblief make your point without resorting to lies.

  • Lee

    Interestingly, Zapiro also brings out the passion in people – and Nandos ads for that matter :)

    Why does the all powerful ANC waste its precious holy time with a mere cartoonist and a fried chicken company unless they are standing on a big nerve i.e. pointing out obvious truths that the ANC don’t want people to see??

  • Dawn

    Great column – but as warned above – sitting on the fence is hard on the manly bits!

  • Havelock Vetinari

    …”The next 5 years will not be any better or any worse than the last 15.”

    Baby steps… I believe the accepted analogy is boiling a frog – if you heat the water gradually, the frog will never notice.

    My problem lies not in the personality of JZ as a leader, but with the process that has elevated him. South Africa now has a precedent of taking the “easy way out” to placate the masses and prevent unrest.

    From my perspective, the only possible credible route to take in a constitutional democracy, would have been a trial. It is as simple as that. Consequences are always unpredictable to a degree, and there may have been civil unrest and perhaps violent protest, but this is the price you pay, and a price that, if you are serious about your constitutional democracy, should have been paid gladly. South African politicians in particular seem fond of espousing their “struggle”. Well, this should have been no less a struggle, with no less a glorious goal. South Africa has fallen short of the mark by taken the pragmatic path – the path of least resistance – and bypassing the principles on which their much-vaunted constitution is based.

  • Tman

    In 2007 at Design Indaba in Cape Town, Zapiro said (when asked by the audience about his take on JZ) from then onwards every cartoon for JZ will have a shower. This, he said was his personal mission to discredit JZ after he sued him. So, Themba is correct. Zapiro has polluted his beautiful profession by adding his personal tragedy. From that conference I lost respect for Zapiro. He will never be objective about JZ. In the next coming five years, no objective cartoon can emerge from Zapiro unless the charges are dropped. Zapiro should explain his statement he made at Design Indaba if he wants us to believe that his cartoons about JZ are objective.

  • Jesse

    There used to be a time when one needed a squeaky clean record and reputation as a pre-qualification to occupying public office. Even a suspicion that the above qualification could not be met, precluded many an aspirant politician from following his/her political ambitions.

    Now, the ANC government is setting a ‘president’ (pun intended) that it is OK to be the leader in/of your country with all kinds of doubts hanging around your head.

    I will not blame any young person justifying their wrong actions by saying: “If my leader/president can get away with it, then so can I. Let me go ahead…”.

  • Lebo

    DA played the apartheid card and selected to ignore history by demonising Zuma and look where it has placed him.

    Maybe most of you have forgoten, but some of us still remember that Mandela was demonised and portrayed as a monster by the evil racist regime and I need not remind you of his achievements. Today he is a hero to most of them and their grandchildren.

  • http://letpeoplespeakamagama.com Lyndall Beddy


    It is easier for an employed person to cheat on tax than for anyone else. They ONLY declare their salaried income and hide all the rest.

    I have had many examples as a liquidator. They actually own the businesses they pretend to be employees of. I even had one guy fake his own “employer/employee” letter to the court about how little he earned, so no jugement could be given against him on the installment sale he owed on his BMW – found abandoned at the airprt 6 weeks later when he skipped the country with the loot.

  • Mzwakhe Khathide

    Ndu, great blog. Gert, good comment. I also fall into this fence sitting category I guess.

  • http://www.laura-land.blogspot.com Laura

    *scratches head*
    Maybe I have been working too hard…

    What is a sensible?
    And a former sensible?

  • http://www.youtube.com/elections2009 Siphiwo Siphiwo

    the rise of zumaism

    the story of a villageboy-turned-president of the state.
    who would have thought that a grade v possessing man would be responsible for theeee big story in south africa?

    someone should begin writing a book about this story. and i promise, it would sell like hot chocolate cakes.

    i’m formerly sensible–with mangcus, karimas, seepes etc etc.


  • James Tobias

    At the risk of repeating myself the real issue that concerns me is how/why the man allowed himself to get into these positions?

    They could be used to launch a new version of the Kama Sutra “Kama Sutra for One”

  • M3


    I challenge you to write a witty piece on the Mbekiites and what could they be ruminating upon as losers. Saki, Bull & co. I mean they have been floored left right and centre by the Zuma juggernaut. I have always been Zuma’s supporter and my vote for the ANC rested mainly on its legacy and to an extent out of sympathy for Msholozi. After all he represents to me the normal fallible guy who rose through the ANC ranks in exile through practical common sense, real interest in liberating his people and solid leadership. He is an anti thesis to the whole idea that a leader must be morally flawless to be loved by the people. He admitted his mistakes and apologised and still maintained his innocence where he felt he did no wrongdoing. He fought very hard to let nothing stick and he won. Zapiro , Malala , Direko & the anti Zuma media have been basking in the glory of bashing & demonising him and some did carve illustrious careers (I mean who had heard of Redi until COPE was born?) but they failed to sway the general public opinion.

  • Sipho

    @ Havelock Vetinari
    You came to hear of the charges through the NPA. They initially claimed the case was unwinnable in a court of law. So, which Trial did they go through to reach that conclusion? Did you complain then, why now? The NPA decided to drop the charges as they have done with Ngoako Ramathlodi, Magnus Malan, General Coetzee and others in the past, and you’ve never complained. Me thinks you’re overcomed by personal fear and hatred. And this constant call for trial exposes the underhand dealings in our highest courts. So why would Mr Zuma’s legal team engage in an exercise with a pre-determined outcome. For example Judge Kate O’Regan pronounced on Mr Zuma’s guilt during Shaik’s appeal at the Constitutional Court. Former Chief Justice and Mr Bizos entered the fray on behalf of the anti-Zuma brigade, through their open letter, which was riddled with cognitive dissonance. We’re also aware how some prominent people across the racial divide were mobilised to demonise Zuma and use their connections in the judiciary to achieve their objective.

  • siyabonga ntshingila

    Apropos of absolutely bugger all…

    “I cant believe it. I really can’t believe it”

    Bulelani Ngcuka. December 26 2007.

    If Adv Mpshe’s transcripts are to be believed.

  • Peter Win

    Good heavens Laura ? Not up to polspeak ? Perhaps you need to buy a Nandos for SA ?

    This is Animal Farm – and we’re all equal – except that some are more equal than others !

    And justice applied to a popular politician is racist ! Or colonial !

  • http://letpeoplespeakamagama.com Lyndall Beddy

    Why would be want either Mbeki or Zuma?

    They are both third rate. Why does SA not deserve the best?

  • Sipho

    Lyndall Beddy, we live in a democracy. If Zuma and Mbeki are third rate, register a party, cobble together a populist manifesto,sing and dance – you’ll be in Tynhuis or Mahlambandlopfu sooner than thought.(Tee hee te heeee)

  • Makgola

    Interesting read as always Ndu!

    I got your book this morning (Is it coz I`m black?). I am so tempted to spend the rest of today in the loo feeding on your madness!!!