Zombie Chronicles: Coalition of the Undead and Daily Maverick's ghoulish obsession with Jacob Zuma

Published Jun 20, 2024


By Gillian Schutte

In a recent op-ed, Daily Maverick’s Richard Poplak predictably labels Jacob Zuma a "zombie," replete with an over-the-top grisly intro that conjures up blood curdling imagery. The piece then descends into a tedious rant about Zuma’s alleged transgressions, obscuring the minor detail that he hasn't been convicted of any of the charges brought against him yet. But facts are secondary when you can rile up anxiety in your bourgeois readers with a horror headline. Once they've bitten into that bait, the rest is just filler—an insipid word salad with with a few weak zombie metaphors tossed into the mix.

The editorial team appears to be scraping the absolute bottom of their smear-campaign barrel. I mean, if their previous attempts to erase Zuma's humanity with a litany of monsterised labels didn't stick, maybe the zombie metaphor will finally do the trick. Perhaps the tone-deaf Zuma-must-fall brigade's greatest wish is that this time, with a dash of awful zombie satire, the Daily Maverick will be the final nail in Zuma’s political coffin.

I can imagine Poplak sitting alone, perhaps with a tumbler of whisky, guffawing over his own joke and patting himself on his back while grotesque imagery unfurls in his mind. Enter Zuma shuffling around with bloodstained hands and rotting flesh falling from his limbs while presiding over mass meetings, all the while licking his lips in anticipation of the hordes he will exploit to satiate his hunger for carrion, brains and ... umm…

Well that's quite enough of wandering around the corridors of Poplak’s liberal phantasy where all those not in line with his ideology are shackled to his unhumorous hubris, living out the perpetual horror of being exposed to his hapless humour. And while his op-ed may have seemed ultra-witty to Poplak himself, his tired metaphor has, of course, missed the mark by a very wide margin. One wonders what would transpire if Poplak just let go of his white boy nudge-nudge-wink -wink version of the world. Who knows, he may soon realise that the actual zombie apocalypse in South African politics isn't Zuma – it's the new coalition between the Democratic Alliance (DA), the African National Congress (ANC), and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP).

This alliance is the epitome of a "zombie economy," propped up by aggressive neoliberal policies and political necromancy. It is a scene straight out of "Night of the Living Dead," with political leaders lurching forward, chanting the monotonous mantras of deregulation and fiscal conservatism. They’re not only here to eat the brains of the nation—they’re here to devour what is left of public services and social safety nets too.

Pushing aside Poplak’s doggerel dogma, let me invite you into my version of the zombie narrative. Enter Helen Zille as the Queen of the Zombies, leading her motley crew of neoliberal ghouls. John Steenhuisen, resurrected from the grave of colonialism, lumbers alongside her, a pointless grin on his rotting face. This coalition, less a political alliance and more an eerie séance, summons the spirits of the Anglosphere. Here US President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as well as Robert Keohane and the members of the Chicago school of economics, partake in a frenzied feasting upon the bodies of the dispossessed majority of the world. With lifeless eyes and a monotone chant of "austerity," they shuffle from body to body, supping on the brains of the usurped, clutching the tattered remnants of their neoliberal playbook.

In this twisted political horror show the new South Africa coalition government has played the penultimate necromancer card by resurrecting Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the grandmaster of 1980s township terror. They have dug up the painful past, exhumed it, and placed it in parliament, complete with all the grim accessories of the black-on-black violence orchestrated by him and his white state puppet masters in the lead-up to 1994. Poplak it seems is oblivious to this blood stained trail just as he is to the bloodbath of colonial history still pulsating in the gut of the DA.

Ramaphosa, once the nation's golden boy, now shambles at the head of this zombie coalition, having been turned into one of the undead back in the 70’s by his white billionaire handlers. These puppet masters, with all the subtlety of a bad horror flick, groomed him to be the perfect sleeper agent, ready to deliver South Africa into the global zombie economy, where national resources are feasted upon by multinational corporations and financial vampires.

It's a plot twist so perverse that even Frantz Fanon must be clawing at his coffin lid. Fanon warned us about the colonised becoming the enforcers of their own subjugation, and Ramaphosa has taken on this role with all the lifeless enthusiasm of a reanimated corpse.

And of course Poplak, our intrepid DM op-ed scribbler, gleefully paints Zuma as the ultimate villain while turning a blind eye to Ramaphosa's blood-stained history. All too eager to earn his keep by labelling Zuma a monster, he conveniently ignores the reality that Ramaphosa's past is soaked in the blood of the Marikana massacre, the Covid Massacre, the Phoenix Massacre and other tragedies. Only a propagandist would overlook this murderous history as well as Ramaphosa’s legacy of corporate skullduggery.

Could it be that Poplak is more afraid of Zuma's defiant swagger than Mr. Massacre’s polished, undead demeanor? Or is he simply clinging to his white masculine privilege, terrified of losing his spot at the service providers’ banquet table, where media mouthpieces of the rich feast on the country's collective anxiety?

Could Poplak’s fixation on Zuma be that of a zombie in denial? Perhaps he's projecting his own undead state onto the former president, too busy gnawing on the bones of outdated prejudices to see the real horror show. After all, it's easier to point fingers at Zuma's scandals than to face the reality of Ramaphosa's corporate zombification and the neoliberal nightmare he's perpetuating. Poplack, like the rest of his journalistic pack at the Daily Maverick, is more interested in mobbing their targeted enemies than holding the true architects of our zombie economy to account.

Is Poplak’s calling of Zuma a zombie, his weak attempt at hiding masculine envy – perhaps even a longing to replace the object of desire, as Zuma has most certainly has proved himself to be. Perhaps he is too consumed with unzipping Zuma to notice that while he has been "resurrected" in the political scene a few times, it is not because he is a zombie. It’s because he is a skilled, albeit controversial, player in a complex game.

Poplak’s compulsion to engage in political wit is clearly at the expense of critical thinking since his op-ed uncovers a glaring ignorance about the actual term "zombie economy," which refers to the phenomenon of unproductive businesses surviving on financial life support. But why bother with accuracy when you can make a cheap joke, right? So for the record funny man, the "zombie economy" refers to an economic system kept artificially alive by financial interventions, much like how our coalition zombies cling to power through dubious alliances and backroom deals. You know … those made by the white monopoly capitalist bosses such as Nicky Oppenheimer and Johan Rupert – along with their nouveau rich black billionaire constructs, corporate bosses and, of course, a network of US funders. It is their aggressive neoliberal stance that ensures the perpetuation of unproductive and exploitative economic practices. Instead of advancing innovation and equitable growth, these players rely on feudal type policies that only serve to widen the inequality gap and ensure the im-perishability of the status quo. It's really the economic equivalent of reanimating corpses – grotesque, unnatural, and ultimately doomed to failure.

Even Poplak cannot deny that the zombification doesn't stop with the above players. Enter the “chosen ones,” those elite journalists at the Daily Maverick and News24. Armed with pens as sharp as pitchforks, they launch frenzied attacks on their global backers’ enemies, those dastardly dissenters of their neoliberal agenda. Obsessed with Zuma’s every move, they choose to circumvent the true zombies in their midst. Could it be that they, too, are part of this undead horde, blindly following the siren call of neoliberal orthodoxy?

So while Poplak fills empty space in the Daily Maverick with his somewhat limp political satire, the real zombies—Ramaphosa and his coalition of the undead—lurch forward, poised to devour the nation's future. The DA, ANC, and IFP, driven by an insatiable hunger for austerity and privatisation, aren't just haunting the halls of power; they're turning South Africa into a dystopian landscape where the living are left to fend off the economic ghouls. In this undead horror show, it's clear that the true zombies are in power, and Poplak, with his “so last century satire,” is just another shuffling, mindless part of the problem.

* Schutte is a well known social critic, author and film-maker as well as social justice and race-justice activist.