For just a moment after the re-election of Barack Obama, we all wished we could feel how good it is to be American. You saw it on Facebook, Twitter and other social network spaces, and at dinner tables. It was a moment of pure American magic.
And who better to deliver it than a black brother, one of our own, a son of the soil, as we would say in Africa.
Obama’s victory took me straight to a scene in the movie Rush Hour 3 where, after a drama-filled street chase, George, a French cab driver who involuntarily becomes the driver for US crime busting duo Lee (Jackie Chan) and Curter (Chris Tucker), happily remarks: “Now I know how it feels to be an American.”
For George, being American meant high-speed chases, guns, shootings and the drama that comes with it. But on Tuesday, it meant having the kind of leader the Yanks have in Obama.
The Americans – in their darkest hour, with Hurricane Sandy leaving a trail of damage, their economy in ruins, and facing a moment where they have to secure their future – rise to the occasion. They make us all believe. Yes, they can, to steal a famous Obama line.
Even if only for one day, it was a relief to forget about South Africa’s own impending Hurricane Sandy of a leadership race. But soon after we took our eyes – and hearts – off the US election, reality hit home: we do not have a Barack Obama among us. Not even by a long stretch of the imagination. So the comparisons between Obama and our own Jacob Zuma, became the favourite topic of discussion.
But while it is unfair even to begin to compare Zuma to Obama, his re-election, coming as it does weeks before Zuma himself steps up to be retained as leader of the ANC at Mangaung – the birthplace of Africa’s oldest liberation movement – it offers us time to accept the reality that we can do better. And for us to ask the difficult question: Is Zuma really the best we can have?
Three things happened in the past week that got us wishing we had an Obama. First was the DA’s march to Zuma’s Nkandla palace, which they say will soon be remembered as a monument of corruption. It was a publicity stunt that talks to the heart of the South African problem – the desperation to have a president of unquestionable morality and unmatched leadership qualities. Indeed, if we had an Obama, there wouldn’t be any need for the opposition and its lapdogs to march to a villa built with public funds in the midst of the stinking poverty of a village that cries out for basic amenities.
The second was SABC boss Jimi Matthews’s conceding to pressure from Mac Maharaj and other Zuma henchmen to ban the use of words such as “compound”, “Nkandlagate” and “Zumagate” from the public broadcaster’s news bulletins.
And then, on Friday afternoon, the event we had all been waiting for: Zuma delivering a lecture in tribute to his nemesis and predecessor, Thabo Mbeki.
It was always going to be interesting to see how Zuma would spell out Mbeki’s successes and failures, and how he’d articulate Mbeki the man, the president.
I would have loved to see the look on Mbeki’s face as Zuma delivered his lecture, but, predictably, Mbeki wasn’t even going to be there. And there’s very little doubt that even if the lecture had been down the road from his Killarney residence, Mbeki couldn’t have been bothered.
Listening to Zuma painfully go through a speech he obviously got the best brains in his camp to draft, it became very clear even to the Doubting Thomases among us that the Zuma moment which those like Gwede Mantashe would have us believe is coming, will remain wishful thinking.
For a moment at the start of the lecture, I wished Zuma could continue singing and dancing. Let’s give credit where credit’s due. He killed it. The man is a top-drawer entertainer and singer of the highest calibre. He is not an Obama.
And we need an Obama. But the reality is that we have Zuma. Simply having Zuma return for another four years, until 2019, is unimaginable to some. But as sure as day follows night, it is going to happen.
What it simply means is that if Kgalema Motlanthe continues to wait on the sidelines hoping this job will land in his lap on a silver platter at Mangaung in a few weeks’ time, Zuma will return.
And in the 2014 elections Zuma will be on the ballot papers, and the ANC will remain in power.
The DA, the biggest beneficiary of this crisis of leadership in the ANC, will make serious in-roads in the urban centres, including Gauteng, the economic engine of this once-prosperous nation.
And many of the “clever blacks” who wish for an Obama will return to their little corners, mumble disapproval and whine.
The closest they will ever get to feeling like Americans is on social network sites and at dinner tables where they speak in hushed tones.