Can you imagine the wave of good cheer that would have swept the nation if President Jacob Zuma, like the Pope, had announced in his State of the Nation address last night that he was stepping down as the nation’s first citizen to devote himself full-time to the great demands of the ANC presidency.
He could have said: “I want my presidency to be remembered for my commitment to the people and to democracy.
“I don’t want it to be remembered for my having clung on to office with a vice-like grip. I am stepping down to allow a person younger than myself to take the mantle, someone untainted by any whiff of corruption… someone who gives this country hope.
“I am also doing it as a way to clear the name of the ANC, which has become blemished by these endless and mean-spirited accusations of alleged impropriety, nasty hints of back-door business deals in which my enemies have tried to embroil my good name.
“I believe my move to rebuild the liberation legacy of the ruling ANC from outside of government will clear the political air. It will also put the country on the right track and ensure a massive victory for the ruling party in the national election next year.”
It would have steered the country back on to the high road in one fell swoop.
The news pages would have been awash this morning with the speculation of how quickly the country’s great hope, ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, could assume the highest political office.
There would have been news within days about positive upgrades by the ratings agencies, which have of late been routinely downgrading South Africa – and our beloved parastatals – in recent months.
Just about the entire nation – including leaders of the opposition parties – would have been drawn into a warm fuzzy political glow. It would be a bit like February 3, 1990, the day after former president FW de Klerk cut short his political career and announced that apartheid was over and real democracy was just down the track.
When you read this, it will be with the benefit of hindsight. But one can guess that such a magic-wand-like moment will have been sorely absent.
Instead, the country will have been given heavy doses of how quickly Ramaphosa’s baby, the National Development Plan, will be implemented.
If Zuma had been a little daring, he will have made great play of the implementation, at last, of the youth wage subsidy, which has been bitterly opposed by ruling party factions. There will – with little doubt – have been much talk about the government’s fight against corruption.
It is a little like Joseph Goebbels extolling the virtues of “the liberal pursuit of truth”. He was, of course, famous for saying that if one repeated the lie often enough, it became the truth.
While the president probably will have focused on the massive infrastructure investment of the government, he probably will not have touched on the deep misgivings of the public, industrialists and businesses who believe that Eskom is sabotaging the government’s good work. It is holding the country to ransom by asking tariff increases nearly three times the upper limit of the inflation target band.
He will have avoided the saga that Evita Bezuidenhout has dubbed “Don’t Cry for Me, My Beloved Nkandla”, which is a cobble of “Cry the Beloved Country” and “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina”.
If he had announced his retreat to Luthuli House, Oscar Pistorius would have dropped to page two or three.