Is Jacob Zuma a Zulu nationalist?

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si Unveiling Mkhize Monument_3954 . Co-opted? King Goodwill Zwelithini receives a golden chain from KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize and President Jacob Zuma in this file picture. According to the writer, Zuma has spent vast amounts of energy building strategic alliances in his home province, giving rise to the perception that he thinks about his tribe first. Picture: Siyabonga Mosunkutu

In a private conversation, an honest member of the provincial executive committee of the ANC in Mpumalanga admitted: “The support of Jacob Zuma in KwaZulu-Natal is more Zulu than ANC.”

It is an open secret that since Zuma became president, KZN has been rewarded handsomely.

A majority of cabinet ministers are now from KZN. Xhosas have been displaced. Most heads of our security agencies are also from KZN. Important international events are increasingly held in KZN.

There are even South Africans who believe that Nkandla will soon be a big city – boasting modern rondavels with underground tunnels, world-class churches attended by first ladies and grand hotels.

As a result, Zulu political loyalty has shifted from the IFP to the ANC. KZN is now the biggest province of the ruling party.

It is a simple, utilitarian calculation. For a Zulu, what is important between the IFP – a small cultural fundamentalist formation operating in parts of KZN – and the ANC, led by a state president from Nkandla?

From this perspective, the slow and guaranteed death of the IFP and the swelling of the ranks of the ANC in KZN make much more sense than propagandist statements of condemnation that will most certainly be poured over this article.

Being a political party that contests and wants to win an election, the ANC must indeed welcome Zuma’s role in bringing masses of former IFP members into the fold of the ruling party.

It should be remembered that not long ago KZN was a serious headache for the ANC. There was a time when the dream of bringing down the IFP seemed like a chimera. Thanks to Zuma, the IFP is now consigned to the scrapheap of history.

But there are strategic questions the ANC cannot afford to ignore. How will the party exorcise the IFP demon from its ranks, and how will it plant an ANC seed in the souls of the new entrants?

This is no insignificant question. As we all know, the essence of the IFP has been the political galvanisation of Zulu culture.

For many years, Mangosuthu Buthelezi proved to be an adept tribal entrepreneur.

By the way, there is nothing wrong in promoting any culture. But the deployment of culture in politics can – and indeed does – give rise to dangerous forms of narrow nationalism.

Through strategic leadership, nationalism can be tamed and sublimated to serve higher political objectives. African nationalism, for example, was used as a powerful political instrument against colonialism and imperialism.

But nationalism can also be deployed perilously. We all remember Robert Mugabe’s massacre of the Ndebele people in the early 1980s in Zimbabwe.

Who can forget Rwanda in 1994?

It would indeed be a stretch to suggest that the rise of the ANC in KZN must necessarily conjure up images of perilous nationalism. The ANC does not have a history of bloody tribal mobilisation. In fact, its historic character is the direct opposite of this.

However, it would be naive to think that new members of the ANC in KZN are naturally immunised against narrow nationalism.

The potential and capacity of an exogenous agent to transform the character of a phenomenon can be underestimated only by those who are woefully ignorant of principles of chemical reaction.

One can only hope that the ANC is courageous enough to confront the very question we posed earlier: how will the party exorcise the IFP demon from its ranks, and how will it plant an ANC seed in the souls of the new entrants?

There is another question that the ANC must worry about: the perception that a Zulu president thinks of his village before he considers the rest of us South Africans.

This perception is dangerous both for the ANC and for the country. In the psychology of observers, the ANC can very quickly be viewed as an instrument of ethnic empowerment.

In her acclaimed book about Kenya, It’s Our Turn to Eat, Michela Wrong tells the real story of a political leadership that empowers its tribe first: “Under Moi, Kalenjin areas benefited from better investment in clinics, schools and roads.”

As modern churches are built in Nkandla, the wise in the ANC must answer the question: in the eyes of observers, what will differentiate Jacob Zuma from Daniel arap Moi?

As most important international events are hosted in KZN, how would our Zulu compatriots defend themselves against the accusation that they are not different from the Kalenjins of Kenya?

If these questions are ignored, it might not be long before the baTswana of North West in our very own country begin to hatch out their own tribal plans to take over the ANC. All this might be done in the hope of redirecting the building of churches from Nkandla to Mafikeng.

In the Western Cape, the coloured people might decide to stick with the DA, viewing it as a better ethnic home.

On their part, the baPedi of Limpopo might develop their grand ethnic scheme, hoping to install a president who would ensure that our national cabinet becomes an “over-concentration” of baPedi.

Only Indians who consider themselves as clever as Schabir Shaik may stick to the ANC, or those who think they have the potential to unseat the Guptas. The rest of our Indian fellow citizens may just go with the Minority Front.

What, then, would be the implications of all that? At worst, the ANC would be converted into a confederation of ethnic groups, where matters relating to leadership are reduced to a tribal lobby game.

In such a scenario, it wouldn’t matter that a leader is morally bankrupt or intellectually hollow; he would be assured of the support of his village, his tribe, or his province.

Before such a leader is nominated, no one would ask: has he demonstrated impeccable leadership in the past? What does he have to offer our country? The primary consideration would be: is this leader Zulu, Xhosa or Venda?

If the ANC were to get to such a point, its death would be expedited. Its historic character as an anti-tribalistic progressive political movement would be mutilated beyond recognition.

There would be more serious implications for our nation as a whole. We would all be compelled by our new subjective reality to return to our tribal laagers – in a desperate search for ethnic security. Life would be nasty and brutish, to borrow from Thomas Hobbes.

The notion of being South African would be relegated to the realm of philosophy, devoid of practical meaning. All that we had been striving for, collectively, as a South African nation in the making, would crumble on the altar of tribal consciousness.

This path can be avoided – not by silence, but by an honest reflection on our current political situation.

Even when the Shembe church calls for an artist to be stoned, we must be vocal in calling for sober leadership.

When Gwede Mantashe leads a rowdy march about a spear that has nothing to do with our nation, we must not be intimidated by hired crowds.

We must insist on telling the truth until hired crowds turn on their handlers, just as plebeians turned on conspirators in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

All this must be done in the conviction that SA belongs to all who live it, black and white.

No ethnic entrepreneurship must be allowed to thrive in our society. When churches are built in Nkandla, we must not keep quiet; we must question the implications for the cohesion of our nation.

And, indeed, we must be very worried when an honest member of the provincial executive committee of the ANC in Mpumalanga painfully admits: “The support of Jacob Zuma in KZN is more Zulu than ANC.”

n Mashele is chief executive of The Forum for Public Dialogue and lecturer in politics at the University of Pretoria. He is also a member of the Midrand Group, and author of The Death of Our Society, available at Exclusive Books.


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