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HERACLITUS was indeed an intellectually arrogant person. He is reputed to have claimed that there were not many people clever enough to understand his doctrines.
The work by the 500BC pre-Socratic Greek philosopher was not straightforward, but it was also not very complicated.
It was Heraclitus who said it is impossible to come into contact twice with a mortal being in the same state. Put differently, every time you meet me, you meet a different person. This is because we are, in life and inside of us, always in an uncontrollable state of flux. Changes in terms of our metabolic and chemical composition. It is like making the bold proposition that it is impossible to step twice into the same river. This being so because the sub-particles of the river are in a state of constant change.
Heraclitus is credited with many theories, including, chiefly, the doctrine of unity of opposites. He is despised, alternatively mocked, as the philosopher who wept because of the loneliness of his life and alleged misanthropy.
So, to understand Heraclitus, we must know that no human being, no political party, no government is in a single, unchanging state.
Heraclitus’s doctrine of flux is perhaps worth revisiting now more than ever, given the many changes in our country. An image that embodied this state of flux for me was seeing tv footage of some MK veterans unleashing violence against children in Port Elizabeth on June 16. It was an event initially billed to have been addressed by our number one citizen.
We know it was on June 16 that a group of schoolchildren were mercilessly attacked by white, pro-apartheid securocrats aided by their black lackeys 36 years ago. Today, it is MK vets, the very antithesis of apartheid securocrats, who take to the streets to fight off children who, as was the case in 1976, are fighting against a system that, in their view, is working against them.
I do not want to delve into why President Jacob Zuma decided to give June 16 a miss, or whether he indeed fled from what he knew were angry young people mobilised to heckle and disrespect him in the glare of the nation. I leave this to the more learned.
I am keen on him being away when the pot is stirred here at home. One day Thabo Mbeki is a globetrotter; another, Zuma finds refuge in foreign lands. One day the ANC Youth League hates Mbeki, another he is a venerable thinker of whom Zuma supporters are jealous. One day the ANCYL loves Zuma, and then he is the scum of the earth.
The unity of opposites is appealing and, indeed, we are always in an uncontrollable state of flux.
Nothing, I suppose, will pierce the heart like the proposal by some in the Eastern Cape that Zuma’s polygamy is costing the state. The issue is not that the Eastern Cape is saying Zuma must pay for his many wives and the state must take care only of his main wife. It is that Zuma has always used his culture, his rural ways, to explain his choices, implying it is only the uncultured loudmouths in the cities who don’t understand him. Now, it appears, the ruralitarians of the Eastern Cape have lost patience with his appetite for his culture, his multiple marriages. It is not hard to see why.
You should only have as many – if you really must, and if it is really a culture you can’t dispense with – if you can afford it. It must be hard for people to justify seeing kids in rickety structures, including mud schools, because the government has no money. Yet the wives and kids are flown around and taken care of at huge expense.
Other more cynical beings will say it was through culture that Zuma ended up with more kids than he could take care of, which led to Schabir Shaik entering the scene; ending up in jail; a campaign started to make sure Zuma is spared prosecution; his being fired; becoming a victim; becoming popular; unseating Mbeki and now becoming our leader. Embattled leader, I mean. By saying Zuma must pay for his wives, the ANC proponents of this view in the Eastern Cape are showing him the finger – from a province that turned its back on Mbeki in its support for him in 2007. It is amazing how Zuma has turned out like Mbeki, is it not? Mbeki was paranoid about people who wanted to remove him from office. Who would forget the sorry saga involving Cyril Ramaphosa, Mathews Phosa and Tokyo Sexwale? For Zuma, those who want him removed are listed in a document submitted by Richard Mdluli in court. It is called the Ground Coverage intelligence report.
Police minister Nathi Mthethwa has become Zuma’s Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, to borrow a line from Ranjeni Munusamy, prone to gaffes but never getting the boot. Like Mbeki, Zuma could not resist the lure of intelligence, leading to his messages about top cop Mdluli being muddled. Mbeki suffered a similar disease with regard to Jackie Selebi.
Mbeki’s lack of leadership on matters relating to HIV/Aids was tragic. For Zuma, it is not his denialism on HIV that is a problem, it is making sure that those who must get ARVs do get them. About two months ago, The Star Africa ran a story of ARVs running out and the frenzy it unleashed (pity some papers are waking up to the tragedy only now). Since then, not much has been done.
When some of these people develop side effects that gnaw at their dignity, we must wish for a president not preoccupied with party wars, but one who makes sure work is done. The same lack of leadership permeates our education departments, especially basic education.
When parents and NGOs take the government to court – like Mbeki was forced to provide ARVs – so that it can provide books, you’ve got to ask ‘what happened to leadership?’. Zuma must know that it is not enough for him to tell teacher union Sadtu: “Teachers must be in class, on time, teaching for eight hours.” That is a truism. Running the state means he must make sure the ministers accomplish just that. If not, when Zuma next says education is a government priority, we must laugh at him. Well, crying would be more appropriate.
Zuma’s opponents may not win in Mangaung, but so far, they have managed to make his march to victory a nightmare.
A president fleeing from young people on June 16 is a sorry sight. It’s undignified.
Sexwale told us in the aftermath of june 16 this year that he is not running for the highest office but, importantly, he is also not running from anyone – a very direct dig at a president on the run, who recently told us: “I know what I am doing.”
Thanks to Heraclitus, Mr President, we know. We do know, Sir.