Is Jacob Zuma just an ordinary man gone wrong?
This is that moment when we wind down to the end of the year, take a necessary look back, and gear up for a new year, looking ahead to positive changes individually and as a society. Even those among us with the slightest nous must realise that we will be assailed by events in nature, conscious acts of gross inhumanity by individuals and collectives, and human fcuk-ups of monumental significance.
So, you’ll forgive me for going completely off the track in wondering about JZ’s innate or socialised propensity to have been the crooked abuser that he is today. Although it is worthwhile wondering what Zuma himself thinks of himself, it is not entirely clear that even he has taken the time to reflect on exactly who or what he is about.
But surely the person he is would have been formed by his rural and poor upbringing, his family background including his commitment to his widowed mother and siblings, cultural preferences, a stick-fighting prowess, his training for and role in the armed struggle, a legacy of 21 children, the self-belief and strategic strengths honed during testing times, an apparent warmth in interpersonal relations while being alert to a potential back-stabber, even his perception that he is unfairly under siege. These aspects would have inculcated a particular demeanour in Zuma, far beyond the literal meaning of his name Gedleyihlekisa which means someone who smiles while taking action against an enemy.
How is it possible that generally positive and character-building traits have resulted in the Jacob Zuma many of us have come to detest, a leader who has so clearly abused his people – especially the poorest and most vulnerable among us – for his own personal ends and to benefit his mates and fellow scumbags?
My own reflections at the end of 2017 and the start of a new year have happened in the context of reading about the Austrian Nazi Franz Stangl.
As commandant of Treblinka and Sobibor extermination camps in Nazi-occupied Poland in World War II, Franz Stangl directed Hitler’s “final solution” for Jews from Poland, Austria, the Soviet Union, France and Germany.
After Stangl was tracked down in Brazil in 1967 by Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, he faced charges in the mass murder of 900 000 people – Jews and non-Jews; men, women and children, who were killed in the gas chambers of the camps where he was based.
Journalist Gitta Sereny spent over 70 hours interviewing Stangl.
As far as Stangl was concerned, his conscience was clear; he was simply doing his duty. He was a cog in a system, a relentless, efficient extermination system that was external to those who staffed it and which could neither be stopped nor reversed. He willingly brought his rigid upbringing, the discipline of his police training and authoritarian disposition to improve performance in the gas chambers. He never regarded the people who died in his camps as individuals, they were not humanity but cargo, always part of “a huge mass… naked, packed together, running, being driven with whips” by the Nazi soldiers, including Stangl himself.
Sereny commented later that Stangl represented for her “the starkest example of a corrupted personality I had ever encountered”.
Her portrayal of Stangl causes me to wonder what really lies in Zuma’s personality – both that inherited at birth and subsequent, defining, life experiences – that has made him the skebenga that he is now and whom we must rid our society of.
What would Jacob say?
And should it influence how we respond to his abuse?