25 May, 2012

The Politics of Victimhood

by Hussein Solomon

You have to hand it to Jacob Zuma – he really does know how to play the victim. In the run-up to Polokwane, South Africans were told that President Mbeki was engaged in a massive conspiracy to keep his dismissed deputy from succeeding him. We were to forget the corruption charges and the Schabir Shaikh judgement which implicated Zuma. We were to focus on the conspiracy. This was clearly a case of deflection from the weaknesses of a flawed character whilst blame was to be attached to a shadowy third force which had its origins in the Union Buildings itself.

With the current controversy surrounding the painting “The Spear” at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg wherein Zuma is standing with his genitals exposed, once more Zuma has donned the mantle of victim. Disrespect is shown to the person and the Office of the President. There is clearly racism behind this new conspiracy against Zuma. We are not asked to consider issues of freedom of expression in a liberal democracy. We are not asked to consider this work of satire as a commentary on the morality and ethics of the person occupying the highest office of the land. We are not asked to consider whether Zuma himself with his extra-marital affairs, nepotism and general incompetence has not brought disrespect onto the highest office of the land. We are not asked to consider “The Spear” in the context of other paintings in the exhibition at the gallery which expresses the commonly held view that the ruling party is suffering from a severe case of moral decay. Indeed, we are asked not to think – just to label as racist and dismiss. This is a strategy commonly deployed by autocrats everywhere. In labelling and dismissing, one need not reflect on the very flawed character at the centre of this controversy – racism, after all, explains everything!

To be sure, playing the victim serves a political purpose. One could rally the troops as was seen with the marches of intolerance on the streets of Johannesburg by Zuma’s sycophants or indeed at recent COSATU meetings. Zuma, will certainly benefit from this controversy in the short term. Racism is a good rally cry to boost the sagging fortunes of a party unable to deliver a better life for all. Conspiracies are good for a party which has lost its moral compass and where greed is increasingly institutionalised in the organs of state.

But, what happens tomorrow Mr. Zuma after Mangaung and you and your decrepit party is still unable to deliver. Charges of racism and new conspiracy theories will not create jobs, will not build homes, will not put food on the table. There will be more Ficksburgs’ as service delivery protests increase in scale and magnitude. Unfortunately there will be more Andries Tatanes’ too, but ultimately Mr. Zuma the tide of history is against you and your party.

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