Cape Town - 140330 - President Jacob Zuma campaigned for the ANC ahead of the 2014 general elections by interacting with people in Gugulethu. He met a few people inside and outside their homes, spoke to a crowd from a portable stage and enjoyed a short game of pool in a bar. Pictured is Jacob Zuma playing a game of pool. Reporter: Natasha Prince Picture: David Ritchie

Everyone interested in politics has heroes and villains… and Zuma was not elected to be Mr Congeniality, says Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya.

Pretoria - There is a crude and tribalist joke that has been going around for as long as I can remember. In this joke a rural Zulu man is asked if he knows of a certain professor. He responds by saying “Angimazi kodwa ngingamshaya” – I don’t know him but I can beat him up.

As I said, it is a crude joke that plays on the mythology of the warlike or great Zulu armies of Shaka and Cetshwayo’s warriors who defeated the British at the Battle of Isandlwana.

I know of many Zulu people who are offended by – and an equal number who relate to – the gloriousness of their people.

I am reminded of the response, “I don’t know him, but I can beat him up”, by the way some respond each time moral and ethical questions are asked about President Jacob Zuma or other leading ANC politicians.

Instead of dealing with the issues before them, they pronounce that they will win the next elections. It is as if the fact that they will win the elections – something I do not expect any sane person to debate – means that their arguments are suddenly better.

You would think, listening to such retorts, that the ability to win an election makes up for ostensibly bad moral and ethical decisions. It is the political equivalent of the “I don’t know him but I can beat him up” type of thinking.

Linked to the triumphalism that makes many in the ANC believe that numbers or power make up for a poor argument, is the perennial question: why do you hate Jacob Zuma?

The question is a distraction. Anyone who is interested in politics at some level has political heroes and villains. None of us needs to justify why we like or dislike one or other politician.

If that was the case, we would also need to take those who adore(d) Madiba to task for having certain feelings for a politician. In case the “why you hate Zuma” brigade does not know, the president is elected to lead a complex organisation called the state. He was not elected Mr Congeniality.

He is certainly not a Facebook status that requires to be “liked”.

He is a seasoned politician whose supporters must accept will never be universally popular. Nobody is.

Even on the two occasions he has been voted for as the ANC’s number one, there were many who voted against him. Is he or his supporters going to ask those who did not vote for him, why they “hate him”?

Social media and radio talk-shows always provide a glimpse of how supporters of one party tend to hold deep-seated hatred for the heads of their rival political parties. Many ANC supporters hate Helen Zille and Julius Malema with a passion and the two leaders’ followers return the favour against the other two.

It is irrelevant whether we love or hate him. He has a duty to perform and must just carry on regardless of how many don’t think much of him.

As the elections in about a month from now will show, President Zuma will emerge smiling. The very many who don’t like him will just have to live with the reality that he will be the first person to be sworn in as president at the newly named Nelson Mandela Amphitheatre at the Union Buildings.

That, however, does not mean that he is beyond questions being asked about his leadership of the country and of his government.

Those who think asking tough questions of the head of state is a sign of disrespect or failure to acknowledge his popularity are fooling themselves.

President Zuma and his supporters must accept that there are just some things that are indifferent to how many numbers one has behind him. One such thing is truth.

No matter how vigorously you wag your finger, unless you have a plausible story to tell, you cannot force it down the audience’s throat. If it is true that the ANC has more than a million paid up members, then surely it must have some who are able to defend the party and the president without having to resort to brawn.

The example of ANC-aligned lawyers taking Public Protector Thuli Madonsela to court is a perfect example of a useful engagement.

Whatever your thoughts about Madonsela or the lawyers might be, dealing with a controversial public issue on its merits and without undue emotions can only take the debate forward.

Everyone is educated by the process and hopefully those in the wrong change their ways for the better.

That cannot be said by posing as a chest-beating bully. The “kodwa ngingamshaya” mentality belongs in a shebeen and not in a serious political discussion argument. The same goes for “Why do you hate Zuma so much?” pity party.

* Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is executive editor of the Pretoria News

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