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Power lodged in narrow hearts: the Zuma phenomenon

There is a strange, paradoxical blending of disillusionment and hope in the minds of millions of Zimbabweans. Like that mediocrity strutting about in the White House, Mugabe is hell bent in stealing an election he never won. Let there be no doubt, Tsvangirai has no exploitation-free route once he assumes that tragic country’s reigns; masculated in the face of the attacks on his supporters, the only thing he can offer is the grim prospect of yet more Mugabe-sponsored violence and the invocation of steeling the nerves and meeting it with steady eyes. His methods of dealing with this crisis are indicative of the route he is obliged to take — ensuring his fellow Zimbabweans’ exploitation under peaceful conditions.

One of the least focussed-on elements of the Zimbabwean crisis is its impact on South Africa, and more particularly on the fortunes of the President in waiting, Jacob Zuma. No-one but Mbeki takes his bankrupted ‘silent diplomacy’ towards Mugabe seriously (which we all should, for the effects of this lightminded political misconception reverberated, not just in Zimbabwe’s rural hinterland, but right here in Johannesburg’s Methodist Mission where 300 Zimbabwean refugees were beaten up and carted to jail by police).

No faction of the ruling party in South Africa said a word about this or countless other matters concerning effects of Zimbabwe’s crisis on South Africa. The complete breakdown of Zimbabwe’s political, socio-economical and humanitarian edifice is a true preparatio politico for Zuma: it makes straight through the desert a higway for our beleaguered president in waiting. In conditions of relative political stability and untroubled humanitarian conditions, Zuma’s posturing as the sensible man from down South would be like hammering at granite. Abroad in Zimbabwe, Mugabe has singlehandedly undermined that country’s foundations, and at home, much vaunted achievements of Mbeki are coming down with a crash…so, now is the time, declares Zuma, to lift up your heads, for redemption draweth nigh!

Zimbabwe has become the key issue used by Zuma and his advisors to garner the support of the Western world. After tacidly repudiating the benefits of Mbeki’s ‘silent diplomacy’ in a press statement attacking Mugabe, Zuma toured Europe, allaying business and polical scepticism about his backing of trade union and SACP criticism against the Mugabe regime. Then followed the hour-long meeting with Gordon Brown and a joint press statement on Zimbabwe, Zuma’s listing in Time Magazine as one of the world’s top 100 influential leaders (actually silly, for Zuma ranks within the first 20…I advise alternative reading than Time magazine after this…).

Yet, Zuma has not, cannot have, any lasting solutions to the vast and intolerable hardships so sharply expressed by the Zimbabwean crisis; there is the more intimate and personal disillusionment, that monotonous misery of defeat in the souls of millions of South Africans, fathered by political ineptitude and -mismanagement of Zuma and the ANC in part, which Zuma has no answers for. Political audacity! Such is the demand which thrusts itself clamorously and uncompromisingly upon political leaders and their parties today. That, Zuma sadly lacks.

People are beginning to suspect that no new order which seeks to erect itself on the foundations of the old can have one atom of survival-value; at best, it can only be a patchwork and a sham. Unless Zuma’s programme and actions have direct and deliberate reference, better still, issue from, the objective need to alter power relations, he has no right to speak for and on behalf of poor people in South Africa and the world over, his past militant credentials notwithstanding.


  • Steven Lamini

    Steven Lamini is a specialist adviser in one of the key policy fields troubling modern-day Europe and works across a range of equality fields, advising on policy and strategic approaches to cohesion. His interests are wide and varied, and he writes on world politics, economic issues, current events, mediocrities and lame-duck presidents of countries. He believes that heads should be enlightened, but somehow regrets having such a stubborn principle, for some heads are rather best chopped off. He lives in York.