Max du Preez is offering to be a ghostwriter for Zuma’s Ultimate Guide to Political Survival, a book that politicians would surely snap up.
There is, after all, an honest way for President Jacob Zuma to earn the millions he’s supposed to pay back after benefiting from the Nkandla “upgrade”: he can write The Ultimate Guide to Political Survival, a book that politicians worldwide would surely snap up.
I’m offering to be his ghostwriter. In the wake of the book’s runaway success, I’ll help my president produce a reality TV series called Survivor Nkandla.
Here, in advance, a few key points that should guide politicians who don’t want to lose power, but know they’re not going to survive on leadership qualities and delivery.
The first key is to make sure you have a strong, blindly loyal primary constituency, preferably a language, regional or cultural group with a sense of adhesion. Establish an understanding among this group that they have power through you. Wear their traditional costume as often as you can, practise their cultural traditions and remind them subtly that an assault on you is the same as an assault on them.
Second, find a political grouping with some clout but no real support and give it power and privilege in exchange for it acting as your guardian.
It doesn’t matter if your philosophies are light years away from theirs for this is strategic, not ideological.
For instance, if you have a communist party in your country that can’t gain power on its own steam but yearns for it and still has some nostalgic value, that would be your ideal partner.
Next, surround yourself with men from these two groupings, an inner circle that would understand that ironclad loyalty to you is a precondition and that its political power and privilege depend 100 percent on yours. Ideal positions for these men (they should preferably be male) would be cabinet portfolios responsible for policing, justice and state security. Co-opt a few key operators in their departments that can manipulate the prosecuting authority, the police and the intelligence communities when you’re under threat.
Now you’re ready for the big move: establish a culture of fear in your party. Know every bit of dirt on every senior member – that’s why you have the intelligence communities in your pocket – and make sure they know you know.
For instance, get your man who is head of crime intelligence and also controls your ministers’ chauffeurs and bodyguards to regularly debrief them on their charges’ meetings, travels and secret liaisons.
It is important to have your agents active in all spheres, from national to provincial to local.
Make sure you know of every little troublemaker that could ask uncomfortable questions – if need be, destabilise regional structures and local branches of your party so you can control them.
Award individuals who are prepared to champion your cause with favours, tenders, contracts and positions, but never forget to collect information on them just in case they get it in their heads to one day challenge you.
It is crucial to, at strategic times, remind your underlings that they should fear you and know their political and business careers depend on your goodwill.
Pick a senior politician or public figure every now and then to fire, humiliate or prosecute to send this message to all. No one around you should feel safe.
Oh, and here’s a general rule: however much it pains you, always give the impression that you’re a good listener, a warm, jovial person genuinely interested in others. Cultivate the idea of “a people’s leader”.
You know what happens to leaders who are aloof, cold and spend too much time in the office and on the internet.
Political survivalists often don’t get good press, especially from the liberal types. A bit of intimidation would not be out of place – let a few expensive defamation suits hang over their heads occasionally. But better still: get your moneyed friends (did I mention you need to cultivate these with promises of power and influence?) to buy or start their own media houses that would help build your image and protect you.
A few tactical pointers. Be counter-intuitive: if, for instance, you’re caught committing a sexual indiscretion, get the people who would be expected to condemn you to defend you, like your party’s women’s movement.
Remember that race, cultural sensitivities, traditional beliefs and religion are powerful bows for your arrows.
As a general rule, denial is your best defence. It doesn’t matter what the evidence is against you, just keep on denying until some start believing you. And always use your sycophants to defend you rather than doing it yourself. They should know if the dirt sticks to you, it would have consequences for them.