Max du Preez thinks it is refreshing that we have a president so utterly at home in his ethnic skin.
Durban - How many South Africans would react differently to President Jacob Zuma if he had only one wife and two children, did not dance and sing in public and did not occasionally don a leopard skin?
If he made the same decisions he has been making since 2008, but occasionally quoted from Yeats and never made a silly remark in public, would most South Africans not think he was as good or better than Thabo Mbeki?
Zuma abruptly stopped Mbeki’s reckless Aids denialism and ordered the launch of the biggest distribution of anti-retrovirals in the world. Zuma initiated the National Development Plan, the most comprehensive blueprint for development launched since 1994.
Zuma had the guts to fire several under-performing cabinet ministers, something Mbeki could not do.
Let me speak for myself. I think it is refreshing that we have a president so utterly at home in his ethnic skin. Millions of South Africans share his respect for and practice of African traditions.
I do not have a problem with my president being a polygamist, even though it is a practice alien to the culture in which I grew up.
When I wonder if it is not demeaning to women, I remind myself that one of the toughest and most able women in South African public life found him good enough partner material to marry him: Nkosazana Dlamini.
I do not have a problem that my president is hesitant when he reads speeches. His small grammatical errors and mispronunciations when he speaks English do not bother me either – English is my second language, too. I do not make fun of black people who say “cowntry” or “kateggorie” or of Afrikaners who say “wiff” instead of “with”.
I do not have a problem with the fact that Zuma cannot give us a list of the serious books he has read during the past few months. Very few chief executives of large corporations have time to read.
I was surprised at the venom with which Zuma was attacked when he said last week that when we think of sophisticated infrastructure and how to finance it, we should keep in mind that we are not like many other mostly rural African states. There is no other city remotely like Joburg on the continent.
Of course, he could have said it better and without a reference to Malawi. But only those already annoyed with him and those who feel embarrassed that he is not as slick and polished as Mbeki pretend that they did not get what he was saying.
I thought many public commentators made fools of themselves by over-analysing Zuma’s Malawi statement. It ranged from “promoting the idea of South African exceptionalism” to a “demonstration of xenophobia and self-loathing” and an “insult to the dignity of Africa”.
Some of these people even pretended that his words about not thinking like Africans could be divorced from the context of sophisticated urban infrastructure.
Zuma hates being an African? He is ashamed of being black? He thinks Africa is backward? He would actually prefer to be European? Zuma? How utterly absurd. Hate him or not, every molecule in his body is African and proudly so. The same man said in Parliament last year: “Let us solve African problems the African way, not the white man’s way.”
We should stop mocking and caricaturing Zuma and focus our criticism of him on how his leadership of the country and the ruling party has affected South Africa.
Ridiculing him simply allows his cabinet and the leadership of the ANC to escape the criticism for being co-responsible for the mess we are in.
I think it is critical that Zuma not be allowed to serve another full term. South Africa simply cannot afford five more years of him. He has allowed cheap populism, corruption, nepotism and tenderpreneurship to blossom. His own family and clan have massively benefited financially since he became president.
Zuma has blatantly abused and corrupted the criminal justice system over several years in his campaign to stay out of court on the serious charges of corruption and fraud brought against him after his “financial adviser”, Schabir Shaik, was jailed for his corrupt relationship with the president.
Zuma has shown very little appreciation for democracy in a constitutional state. He has repeatedly questioned the supremacy of the constitution and the Constitutional Court’s task of enforcing it. There is reason to suspect that he is part of the agenda to restrict new judicial appointments to conservative, executive-friendly candidates.
Zuma has done virtually nothing in five years to turn around the criminal neglect of the education of black youth.
We need new leadership, yes, but not because he is a traditionalist who occasionally trips over his tongue. We need to see the back of Zuma, but not because he is a proud African.
* Max du Preez is an author and columnist.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.