Tuesday, December 22, 2015

President Zuma: going, going, or already gone?

Though no one can put a date on it, we should keep an open mind about when President Zuma resigns or retires 'for reasons of health': the election results will be the decider.

As I wrote below, 'replacing' Mr Nene last December marked the effective end of Zuma, exposing him as a dangerous as well as incompetent president. But if anything could add to the need to replace him, it is his do-I-don't-I support now for hard-working and respected finance minister Mr Pravin Gordhan.

The president's extraordinarily ill-judged and stubborn conduct in this has provoked defiant statements of support for Mr Gordhan from both Gwede Mantashe, Secretary General of the ANC, and the party's unfailing alliance partner, the South African Communist Party. Just as disaster - downgrading for SA to junk status - looked as if it might be avoided by the skin of the teeth, President Zuma has created a supreme crisis for the ANC. Even the most loyal and complacent rank and file member can see now the party and their leader do not live in the world alone and cannot do what they like.

Obviously how long Zuma survives depends on how strong his support is among the ANC's Top Six. But we can imagine the depth of panic and simmering revolt there must be throughout the party now.


I would not say I ever had a sneaking regard for President Zuma; I did not. It was just that he seemed preferable to outgoing president Thabo Mbeki. I remember a TV debate at the time: viewers were invited to text to the station who they wanted to be next president. I texted the abbreviation 'ABM': Anyone but Mbeki.
It was Mbeki's assumption of a know-all superiority that I found stifling, his readiness to accept as his due the status of 'intellectual' when his ideas, as on Aids, could be as scatty and unscientific as the next man's: an intelligent person is sceptical, not convinced of his own infallibility. I understood he had no alternative to supporting President Mugabe, but disliked his appearing before the cameras hand-in-hand with the Zimbabwean despot. It cocked a snook at democracy, was a contemptuous statement gratuitously made.
Even Mbeki's celebrated opening speech years ago, 'I am an African', puzzled me. It did not strike me as an inclusive call; it was sectarian. Surely, following Mandela's example, I thought, and in light of the new SA's constitution, the proper way to have begun was, 'I am a South African'.
It was long ago. Whether one sees it that way or not now, it is all history, whereas President Zuma is still very much with us in the present. I link these comments to an article by Tony Leon*, not because of any political allegiance, but because Mr Leon lays out SA's new situation as well as anyone. There have been very many articles across the political spectrum on how President Zuma has let his country down.
For myself, who once took as at least plausible Jacob Zuma's claim to be the 'listening' one, the amiable 'people's president', compared to the humourless, calculating Mbeki, I stand now more aghast than disillusioned.
Never mind any longer Zuma's many other transgressions: the man's venality; the Shaik affair and the way he dodged his own trial; the incompetent ministerial appointments; Nkandla; the sanctioning of attacks on the Public Protector.
Here is a president who could set aside every consideration of rational, consultative government in the new SA's democracy and summarily fire his minister of finance in the very midst of a major economic crisis for the country. What for? How can it be explained, let alone justified? Was it really for the sake of his confidante, Dudu Myeni? Did South Africa's president really put her first, above all reflection and statecraft? Was it, as many claim, because he has sold out lock, stock and barrel to the Guptas? Was it because he is stubborn like a child and flatly refuses to take advice or allow himself to be opposed by underlings when he is Number One?
This once, I break my golden rule and prophesy. Whatever the reason for his conduct, President Zuma is finished, every last shred of his credibility gone. He will go; the decision is probably already taken among those who decide these things.

I part company with Mr Leon's final remark in his article: 'where exactly he will be when it ends ...' It has already ended for President Jacob Zuma. He is not president anymore. The only loose end to tie up is not, as the hashtag has it, #Zumamuststillfall, but that he has fallen and is still there.

Monday, December 7, 2015

What do Jeremy Corbyn (2015CE) and St Jerome (415CE) have in common?

No, Jeremy Corbyn did not translate the Hebrew Bible into Latin and St Jerome was not an early Leader of the Opposition in the UK. And no, the link is not that Syria looms large in both their lives.
Nor are the two unkindly, still less designedly, named together; there is no special link between the two. You could as well twin Lenin with Loyola and John Calvin with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. And you could go on twinning as many names as you choose from all over the place and all ages: Urban II and Hitler; MaoZedong and Phillip II of Spain; Eugene Terre'Blanche and Thomas Muntzer; Robespierre and Pol Pot; Mosley and Malema.
For however far away from one another all these leaders stand in space and time, what they share is inflexible belief - or, to use a more academic term, ideology.
The purpose of ideology is to substitute a governing set of ideas, whether religious or political or both, for a reality the believer finds unacceptable, no matter how real it is to others. That is why 'the facts' never trouble ideologues, or are easily denied by them; that is why 'the revolution' can never compromise, be accomplished or assuaged.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Oscar Pistorius appeal: justice, the law and mercy

After the Oscar Pistorius trial three things seemed plain to me besides the fact that I personally did not believe his version of events.* The first two had to do with justice and the law.
The verdict of culpable homicide was wanting in terms of achieving justice: someone was dead. Mr Pistorius had killed someone, but had been found guilty of a charge carrying a comparatively light sentence. As far as I could judge as a layman, the verdict then must also have been wrong at law.

It was a matter of common sense. Mr Pistorius must have known that shooting four times through a locked door into a tiny confined space was likely to kill whoever was inside. The fact that it turned out to be the world-famous athlete's beautiful lover Reeva Steenkamp made the case a worldwide sensation. But it did not alter the fact that even if the person had been the intruder Mr Pistorius said he feared at that moment, his intention when he fired was to kill. How did it change anything who he killed? Someone was dead.

Against this view, many insisted Mr Pistorius had received justice. He had not intended to murder anyone. Furthermore he had the right to defend himself against a criminal. There was too much crime in South Africa. It was the people trying to interpret the law harshly that were wrong and unjust.

The Supreme Court of Appeal has unanimously concluded that the lawful verdict against Mr Pistorius, and his sentence, are for murder.

In reaching this decision, the SCA is at pains not to be seen as criticising the trial judge, Judge Masipa. Different interpretations of the law are inevitable within the system and she took the view she took as a legal expert applying the law.

Well and good, of course. But it is more Judge Masipa's conduct of the trial that brings the third issue into sharp relief for me. I felt at the time that Judge Masipa, like Portia in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, had been concerned to show mercy in dispensing justice according to the letter of the law. It is hardly something to condemn a person for, especially one presiding so composedly over so highly charged a trial.

The law is proverbially an ass, but perhaps Mr Pistorius's case rather shows the law cannot win whatever it does. The question for us after the SCA's decision is whether justice, with its obvious connection to mercy, has really been better served by enforcing the proper reading of the law.
In spite of the disgust and outrage at the abuse of women in what is supposed to be civilised society today, a number of women I know - repeat, women - believe Mr Pistorius has suffered enough and it is awful to make him return to prison after all he has gone through. Do they have a case?
What is the balance between the law, justice and mercy? Has it been met? Remember someone is dead.