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Zuma as half of a yellow sun

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AFP PHOTO / POOL / NIC BOTHMA

On Valentine’s day, 14 February, 2018, when he was expected to be enjoying his favourite past-time of womanizing, Jacob Zuma, the now rested President of the Republic of South Africa, resigned his position as the President after days of mounting protests and escalating tensions around the country.

In a late evening but self-serving broadcast to announce his decision, Zuma was his usual self: imposing in frame, empty in logic and full of reckless statements. The media on this side, both new age and mainstream, went full throttle to capture and report the development with a running splash of applause for a man who led South Africa into the lonely nights of misery. Surprisingly, many of these reports showcased him as the new hero in town and even urged other African leaders in the throes of controversy and popular rejection to emulate Zuma.

However, those who understand the language of penitence with which resignation letters are written all over the world will see clearly that what Zuma wrote and read to the world was not a resignation letter in the full acknowledgement of his misadventure as a president but rather, a disguised allegation of victimization and injustice against ANC-the ruling party that brought him into the limelight of national politics. In spite of the nation-wide lynch mob that gathered against him, Zuma was convinced that the National Executive Committee of his party did not provide the necessary articulation of offences to warrant his untimely recall. In other words, his purported resignation was not a product of personal conviction that he was truly rudderless but some sort of political coup engineered at the upper echelon of ANC that did not tally with what he was seeing, all the while, in the mirror of his own conscience.

So, it’s important for us to hold and note well in history that, like many other discredited African leaders who believed so much in themselves and the propriety of their stewardship not minding the pervasive anguish in their various domains, Zuma did not resign but humiliated out of office. As a result, that he stepped down was not entirely in deference to constitutional supremacy but a demonstration of his satisfaction that having made immense contributions to the lifecycle electoral decline of ANC, he has nothing more valuable to damage.

Perhaps, we could be relieved, even if in part, of our grimaces of bafflement if we take time to understand the person and character of Jacob Zuma. Essentially, he was a 75-year old liquidator who joined ANC as a teenager, embraced the revolutionary struggle against apartheid and had a brief spell of political detention. He had a fairly amplified political career and by 1999 had become the deputy president to Thabo Mbeki. That ends the good run. By 2005, Zuma began his emergence on the stage of infamy. That year, he was fired on allegation of shady arms deal.

Since the outbreak of his presidential plague in 2009, he has moved from one stunning controversy to the other. In a disastrous reign of nine years, he accumulated a total of 780 resolved and unresolved allegations. He was accused of state capture, embezzlement, historic killing of striking miners and under him, South Africa went into the darkness of rage and intolerance killing immigrants, mostly Nigerians, in a brutal xenophobic display. While giving his exit speech, he harped on the need for leaders to respect the wishes of the people they serve, when, in reality, he defied those of his own people for the entire duration of his ill-fated presidency. He also gave a brief account of his complete ‘misrule’ in the area of radical economic transformation and finally told us, as if we cared, what he would do next after leaving office.

Taking an intent look at all these rantings, one can very assuredly conclude that Zuma was the star actor in a near decade-long nightmare that tormented the people of South Africa. For a fairly long time, I have been tracking the national progress of this promising country especially from the output of the Zuma presidency. If ever there was any take home for me, it was to the extent that leaders like Zuma should be treated like the devil’s soup to be eaten with a long spoon. Without unceasing and corrective public outcry, all domains of sustainable development would have long collapsed under him and hopelessly too. The much I know of the conjugal and beneficial linkage that should exist between a country’s public health system and its political leadership was marked by its very absence under the former president.

Bogged down by the ravages of HIV/AIDS that brought South Africa to the forefront of the global pandemic, Zuma vigorously denied the existence of the disease disregarding, as it were, numerous cases shown to him as well as countless appeals from international organizations and reputable world leaders. If he had stopped at denial, that would have been fine at least. But he did more. He refused to commit funds to HIV/AIDS projects, openly opposed the use of condoms and encouraged folkloric remedies that marked a new era of onslaught on virgins and elderly women in and around South Africa.

In education, ‘Terminator’ Zuma left a huge scar in the sector. With him in the saddle, Lesotho overtook the country in budgetary allocation, gained literacy and human capital growth spurts while Zuma abridged access to and quality of public education in his own country. The totality of the masses experience under his radical economic transformation was best exemplified by the economic conditions of his fellow black South Africans. For them, Zuma’s South Africa functioned just a little better than the sanctuary of the helpless. In his own time, income inequality gap widened profoundly between white and black South Africans so much that the whites have started a program of strategic repositioning to take back both political and economic power in the country.

During a two-week HIV/AIDS study tour I undertook way back 2013, I knew intuitively, given the prevailing dynamics of social relations of the time, that the black humanity in South Africa was a strangely disinherited race. Rehabilitative and integrative economic policies did not take many away from the margins of existence and while the President was expected to focus his energy and thought processes on fostering a comprehensive ‘Black Economic Revival Plan’, he was busy diverting national wealth to nurture a retirement home where he hopes to spend his remaining days as a corrupt demigod.

Going further, he was vacuumed of the moral spirit of the typical African leader in contemporary democratic governance. He did little to dignify his person and office. He had an exceptionally strong phallic drive, too strong for a leader who wished to make a memorable difference in the lives of his people. Zuma’s phallic appetite saw him change beds from the daughter of his bosom friend, whom he appointed LOC Chairman for the 2010 world cup, to his secretary and other women available on his adulterous menu list. On all counts, he was a true Zulu warrior but unfortunately, chose the wrong front to exhibit his prowess and valour. When other leaders in the prosperous Global North and the struggling Global South were doing battles in their brains and on their office tables, Zuma’s own battle was always under the duvet.

Although, I have not read Chimamanda Adichie’s novel “Half of a Yellow Sun” beyond excerpts from book reviews, nevertheless, my Yoruba background tells me that a yellow sun usually appears in the sky when the day is on its way out to make room for the night. Therefore, at this point of historic transition and as we wave to this disappearing ‘yellow sun’ of a president, my prayers are with the people of South Africa that Cyril Ramaphosa, the new President, will be the bright morning star on the other side of the yellow sun to illuminate a new path of growth in the country.

Dr Olugbade Omotajo is a Public Health Physician with the Oyo State Government.


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