June 19, 2018

Wicked Witch is gone. Now for the munchkins

South Africa is setting off now down its own yellow brick road and it's going to take lots of brains and heart and courage. Not everyone was brought up on stories like the Wizard of Oz, but we all know a tale about a long journey home.

It took a tornado to bring down Dorothy’s house, and conveniently the Wicked Witch of the West happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s just the beginning of her story, but Dorothy found her way in the end, as the famous story goes. We are only setting off now on South Africa’s yellow brick road.And if our journey is anything like Dorothy's, we are facing lots more winged monkeys, and scary witches and other challenges.

The morning after Zuma’s long-awaited resignation I expected to wake up feeling very happy. At last, the day we had been waiting for. Ding,dong, the Wicked Witch is gone. I listened out for the tune, waited for my toes to start tapping.

But nothing. Instead I felt only tired. I expect the whole country was feeling the same.

Granted, I couldn’t be feeling anything like as tired as those who had spent ten days in meetings, or our sturdy press who kept up an endless commentary throughout a protracted period when most of the time they were doing nothing but waiting.

A special word for those eNCA reporters who kept talking for half an hour before the 10pm press conference which started late as usual. You have to give them credit for keeping it going when there was really nothing left to say.

By midnight Zuma had gone through his entire bag of tricks, played every card.

But at last he was there on the podium. Just one brief hitch with the sound, and Zuma was where he should have been days before. Make that years ago. And it was the same old Zuma. First the familiar giggle. Then the affable smile and a joke – “why do you all look so serious?”

Not a word of apology for keeping the media waiting, and the nation up long after bed time. The press room appeared to be completely silent. Was everyone in shock?

Where was the man who only hours earlier, rambling and barely coherent, had taken to the state broadcaster to appeal for sympathy? A smart suit had replaced the crumpled shirt. He stood upright this time, instead of slouching in a chair and pouring his heart out to the SABC who, obedient as ever, didn’t even try to interrupt with a question, or maybe tried but couldn’t. There could not have been two more different presentations or versions of the man.

But it was the same old Zuma all right. By midnight he had gone through his entire bag of tricks, played every card. He reminded us of the role he had played in the struggle. That is something we will never forget and it’s exactly what makes all of this so very tragic.

He told us that he was the one who had once deployed MK cadres. It’s what he does, what he always has done. Again, that makes even more incomprehensible his later deployment of crooks and criminals to leading positions in our democratic cabinet and state entities that are supposed to serve the nation, not steal from it.

For 45 minutes on SABC he was the injured party, the victim appealing for our support, the misunderstood and uncomprehending innocent whose party – the one he had served for years of undivided loyalty ‑ had played a dirty trick on him.

He went from that merely five, maybe six hours later, to being the statesman, the world leader, the grand old man of one of Africa’s most powerful nations. Yet in that dauntingly impressive about-turn he remained consistent about one thing only – that he, Jacob Zuma, had done nothing wrong.

Is that what woke me up feeling depressed instead of elated? That he could apparently be so stupid, or believe us to be. That he could lie with such a straight face? That he could switch narratives, like he had changed outfits, to see which tactic worked best?

But we know Zuma is first and foremost an intelligence operative who has been trained to do exactly that, and has had plenty of experience.

That week exposed nothing new about Zuma. But something was revealed of the ANC. Maybe it started off all about unity, in those frantic early days of behind the scenes negotiations by a party that has to hold together, at least until 2019. We get that.

But the public face of the party, which is the one we have to go with, told a different story. To this day no one in the party has spelt it out. At SONA President Cyril Rampahosa would not allow the booing from the House to stop him from thanking Zuma.

But we cannot forget Jesse Duarte’s late-night steadfast refusal to tell the nation what Zuma had done wrong, which leaves us with a party that, factions notwithstanding, had Zuma’s back to the very end.

Are we left with the conclusion that not only Zuma believes himself to be innocent? Is the ANC, too, willing to go along with absurd claims like those put forward by Ace Magashula, that Zuma was asked to leave because...well, because it was Ramaphosa’s turn to give the State of the Nation Address. Or because the stress and uncertainty was not good for the country.

Nothing to do with Zuma himself. It was all those attacks on our erstwhile president, by civil society, the opposition, those who kept forcing him to have to go to court to defend himself. It was the press that was to blame – Duarte said as much. We live in a country where the press is not known to be kind, were her words, or something like that. But it was late, and had been a bad day at the office, and this was no time to remind her that the press in a democracy is not there to be kind.

Zuma might have gone, but his legacy will not simply disappear. And while ‑ as TV commentators pointed out ‑ by that night his name was no longer even being mentioned, leaving history to whitewash his years of destruction, South Africa is left to carry on.

South Africans are determinedly optimistic, and hope has endured, even during times when it had no place being there. We are going to need lots of it now. And a lot of brains and heart and courage.

Moira Levy

Last modified on Monday, 19 February 2018 19:40

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