God love ‘em, the world could use more mavericks like Boris Johnson and Jacob Zuma.

Keep your dull politicians, your people of note with their perfect pedigrees and coiffed scalps, honed in austere academies, planed and sanded at the finest finishing schools. Give us a world governed by floppy moptops, foot-in-the-mouth blunderers and sloppy dressers who enliven dinner parties and keep the gossip pages flowing.

Give us leaders who know what it is to go without or who, despite their silver-spooned birthright, manage to become down-home people who’d be great fun at a dinner party or worth buying a drink for “down the pub”, as the Brits would say.

True-blue Tory Boris Johnson, who has ousted Labourite “Red Ken” Livingstone as Mayor of London, has been blundering around British public life for years, writing feisty editorials as (then) editor of the Spectator, appearing on television as occasional host of the satirical news programme Have I Got News For You, bumbling about in Conservative Party politics, being interviewed about his latest gaffe (like Prince Philip, he is forever putting his foot in it and will continue to do so as Mayor), and generally making himself adorable and the nation’s favourite scruffy puppy-dog.

Despite his Eton pedigree (where he received a classical education) Johnson has managed to emerge into public life a mensch, which is a compliment that can be paid to few who pass through such hallowed halls of learning. Bumbling Boris, with his floppy, unkempt blond hairdo and loopy grin, is impossible to dislike, and therein lies his effervescent charm. But there is something beneath his clumsy charm that awaits the sunlight.

Like Jacob Zuma, whose abilities to govern a country are yet to be tested, Boris Johnson has, until now, not yet had a chance to show his sceptics and critics what he is made of; to show us what’s beneath the colourful shell. As commentators have pointed out, Johnson has no experience as yet of running anything bigger than a magazine office (in which he was scarcely seen), yet now has been chosen by millions of Londoners as the man they would trust to run one of the world’s biggest and most ethnically diverse cities.

Jogging around London the morning after his election, he did not look like a man desperately stressed about the task ahead.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man and all that. Of course, often the hour cometh and the man falleth flat on his face. That even happens to people of impeccable credentials who achieve the sought-after office and then simply do not deliver.

For years many Britons have thought that Gordon Brown, after languishing for so many years in the seat next to Tony Blair’s at Westminster, would shine when he finally moved into Number 10 Downing Street (from Number 11 next door — must have been the cheapest house move in Britain).

The disaster of Brown’s first few months in office turned into Friday’s embarrassing drubbing for Labour in nationwide local elections and in his London mayoral candidate losing to the colourful Conservative candidate.

I have a hunch, and that is all that it is, that Boris Johnson is going to show his true colours as Mayor and reveal the promise that many believe he has always held: that beneath the jocularity and hail-Henry charm he has substance and nous that can be translated into effective action.

I have the same feeling about our own Jacob Zuma. Like Johnson, there is something about him (why do suddenly I hear the gloopy sound of pens being dipped into green ink?).

It is hard to define, I accept, and there are a slew of reasons you could proffer supposedly to destroy my argument. But in truth, neither you or I really know what Zuma is going to be like as president. Once upon a time, everybody wrote off one Ronald Reagan, an actor who dared to run for president of the USA. Only time will tell what truly lies ahead for us all under Zuma, and one day either I will have egg on my face (I shall simply wipe it off) or I can adopt a haughty I-told-you-so look while everybody else steps up and says, “Well, actually, there was always something about him, wasn’t there? I always thought so.” So, for the record, I am saying it now, and damn the consequences.

In the end, it is of little consequence what you or I think or how we vote when the next South African general election comes around. The ANC is going to win, and Jacob Zuma will be the next president. We can only hope that my hunch is right: that he will surprise us all and be a damn good leader who listens to his people (all of his people, not just ANC voters).

As for whether he will get my vote, there is way too much water yet to flow under the bridge to make choices for our own next general election, although Patricia de Lille, as ever, is an appealling prospect, and Helen Zille is shaping up very nicely.

Personally, I would prefer our politics to be more fluid in the way of the British or American variety. Britons and Americans are in the happy position of knowing that the vote they cast really does have the power to oust the government of the day. On paper, ours has that power too, but in effect, because of the sheer size of the ANC monolith, there seems to be no chance of any non-ANC party attaining power in anything like the near future.

Americans may well toss out the Republicans this November and usher the Democrats back for the first time since Bill Clinton’s second term ended nearly eight years ago. Britons now look decidedly like turfing Labour out in two years time if the thorough trouncing they have just had in local elections is repeated at the next general election.

Since we’re going to have the ANC in power for years to come, and since their chosen leader is Jacob Zuma, shouldn’t we adopt a devil-you-know attitude, at the very least? A leader who knows he is supported by his followers is likely to be a better leader than one who knows the people think he is a joke.

Just look at Mugabe.


Tony Jackman

Tony Jackman

Tony Jackman is a journalist, budding playwright and sometime chef. He's written two plays, An Influence of Ghosts and Blue Train Coming, and back in the day wrote loads of songs. He paints a bit in watercolours...

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