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JZ ≠ democracy?

Since Jacob Zuma has come out tops in most provinces in the nomination race for the ANC presidency earlier this week, many of my colleagues, relatives and friends have voiced their concern about what will become of this country.

Some said they will leave the country if JZ becomes president; others decided they will not invest in property in South Africa any more or make any other long-term plans, and most were concerned that we would slowly but surely lose the democracy we fought for so hard with JZ leading the country.

If nothing else, the reactions show an interesting and quite unusual political phenomenon — that a presidential candidate can be so strongly liked or disliked at the same time. It’s only black or white when it comes to Zuma; there’s no room for grey, for “maybe” or for “I don’t care”. There doesn’t seem to be a single person in this country who doesn’t have an opinion on JZ.

(Well, perhaps it’s not that unusual after all: in terms of popularity, George W Bush was in a similar position before his election.)

Those who feel so strongly about not wanting Zuma in power and predict this to be the end of our democracy make the following points (and more):

1. Although he was found not guilty in the rape trial, he — a husband, father, top politician and former head of the National Aids Council — admitted to having unprotected sex with an openly HIV-positive Aids activist. Such lack of morals and ethical double standards people feel don’t exactly make for presidential material.
2. His possible involvement in the arms deal and upcoming trial is reason enough to kick JZ out of the race. Although innocent until proven guilty, why run the risk of international embarrassment by having the top presidential candidate imprisoned (if convicted)? Rather nominate a candidate with a whiter vest than someone like Zuma whose vest has clearly visible dirty spots (if there is such a thing as a politician with a white vest).
3. Zuma’s statements and general behaviour indicate a very unhealthy hunger for power.

The question why he is so popular is answered in the following ways (and more):

1. He is a people’s person — accessible and down to earth.
2. He sings, dances and generally knows to say what the masses want to hear.
3. He is a Zulu.

Those for and against JZ are welcome to add more points but I think that’s the gist of the opposing arguments. The pro-Zuma side argues in an extremely emotional way, while the anti-Zuma side comes from a more rational perspective. Yet, what is apparent is the total lack of political analysis in both camps …

… because we haven’t been presented with thorough political strategy by any of the candidates! Apart from vague assumptions, we have no clue how Zuma (or Sexwale or any other candidate) actually plans to run the country once in power because none of the candidates has bothered to tell us (aside from the promise of following general ANC policy — but what does that exactly mean?).

No wonder the public doesn’t have an option but to make emotional or at best half-informed decisions about which candidate or party they support. This needs to change. We need to demand that candidates talk proper politics instead of emotional marketing garble — publicly and not only behind closed doors in Polokwane.