To listen to Jacaranda 94.2 is to step back and across into an alternate dimension — one where the soundtrack is pure eighties pop. Bizarre. George Michael, Sheena Easton, Marc Alex, Billy Idol … And then there’s Just Plain Darren, erstwhile Supersport, 5FM and East Coast jock, along with his trusty sidekick John Walland. Damn, I thought they’d both disappeared into club hockey but no – they’re on Jacaranda.
So is Jacob Zuma. In fact, in the week beginning July 21 2008, as he was cited by many papers for ‘wooing whites’, he also popped up several times on Jacaranda in various capacities. I heard the afternoon jock reference JZ’s viewpoint on some issue or the other, with nigh-respect in the voice … and when the Jacaranda morning charity drive delivered blankets in Tembisa, JZ was there too. The JZ sound bite the station played was pure PR slick. It went something along the lines of, “Thank you for these blankets. They show people living in poverty that somebody cares”. The emphasis on the ‘somebody’ was subtle and decisive and illustrated everything JZ has that Thabo doesn’t. Most larnies in this country don’t seem to give a damn, he said to the 6 million Jacaranda faithful, but somebody, some person (who most likely tunes into 94.2 and loves Darren Scott), does. This is media mastery at its best because the sound bite is as benign as text. What makes it work is the delivery, the nuance placed on the word and the warmth and meaning in the voice.
Thabo never was a storyteller and, looking back, it’s clear when he exposed what ultimately proved to be his biggest weakness – a devastating lack of story and visible empathy. Less than a year into his presidency more and more “he isn’t Madiba” comments began to arise in the media and in general society. In response Thabo started dressing casually, and, unbelievably, started to dance. Suddenly there he was on the podium at rallies in Madiba garb attempting a pitiful rip-off of the shuffle.
Retrospectively, the image has become even more painful than it was at the time because it clearly signified the fact that he would never be able to communicate properly with his people. He just doesn’t have it in him.
In 2008, when one examines the PR skills JZ possesses and compares them to Thabo, JZ blows the short, stiff, grey one out the water. Indeed, given the wall of opposition JZ has faced in the media over the last few years, to say nothing of the barrels of seemingly incriminating ‘legal’ evidence that appear to render his position untenable, his ‘reputation enhancement’ drive has come straight out of the top drawer. They just don’t (because they can’t) teach this stuff. Some people are simply born naturals. For Naas it was a misshapen leather ball, for Jacob it’s the press.
The harsh, dirty reality of politics is something American writer Hunter Thomson expressed many years ago, and we should never forget it. It’s the pig f*#$!er principle, and here’s how it works. In politics, and especially if you’re down in the polls, in the media, in an election or in an important power struggle of whatever flavour, call your opponent a pig f*#$!er. Launch a savage attack in the media and, regardless of whether he’s a fine religious man or a sleazy punk, he’ll be forced to deny it. To deal with it, to waste time and resources and to risk the wrath of Deborah Patter’s angry jaw as he says the words, in public, over and over again: pig f*#$!er. pig f*#$!er. pig f*#$!er. Pretty soon, regardless of how close he’d ever been to being a pig, in the public domain he and the porkies are forever carnally entwined.
The hard reality is that all politicians in all countries spend a massive amount of their time both implementing and defending themselves against the pig f*#$!er principle. Indeed, the world’s truly successful politicians, the ones who became icons, have, one way or another, actually mastered this brutal mix of power and media manipulation. Bill Clinton, JFK, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, Tony Blair, Ronald Reagan, Maggie Thatcher, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez and maybe, choke on it if you will, Jacob Zuma?
It’s too early yet to say whether JZ will climb the full mountain range of political obstacles in his path, but his ability to master the pig f*#$!er principle is, by any objective measure, remarkable.
So look, this isn’t a punt for JZ. I’m too crusty and cynical for that. Politics is the hardest game, played by the meanest, most sinister, power-hungry, fat bellies the world has had the ill fortune to spawn. None of them should ever be trusted, on anything. Ever. Thabo has Jackie Selebi, JZ has Shabir, Dubya has Halliburton, the Clintons had everybody, JFK had a penchant for cocaine and street girls … politics is dirty and filled with pig f*#$!ers. Nevertheless, listening to Jacaranda 94.2 I started to figure that at some stage someone will have to recognise the man for the media giant he is quickly becoming. So what the hell, it may as well be me. In a short year JZ has successfully schmoozed all the grey-haired English suits, the boere-mafia businessmen, the average, eighties-loving, middle-class Afrikaners, most of the international investor community and so on and so on and so on.
The Freedom Front are inviting him to open their convention this year.
I’ll leave it at that.