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Former Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille of South Africa has written a very reflective piece on President Zuma’s improbable journey, from a self-taught man to the Presidency and from the Presidency to prison.
She recounts some touching anecdotes about the considerate, compassionate and very personable Zuma that are moving. She describes the former President as “unfailingly warm and humane in his treatment of me personally.” She recalls how, when she was abandoned by many whose careers she had made, Zuma reached out and urged her to “have courage”.
In her view, Zuma’s failure, and by implication that of Africa, can be linked to our traditions. According to Ms. Zille, “At the heart of it, this tragedy is rooted in the enormous complexity of our collective decision to impose a modern constitutional democracy on what is largely a traditional African feudal society. President Zuma is a traditionalist totally unfamiliar with the concepts of constitutionalism, thrust into the role of President whose primary duty is to serve and defend the constitution– a total misalignment “.
She goes on to cite the need to offer gifts to Chiefs in communities she visited during campaigns.
Ms. Zille’s perspectives raise important questions.
Was Zuma’s failings, regarding corruption and the rule of law rooted in his Africanness?
Why did Mandela and Mbeki not have similar problems then?
On the other hand, history, both remote and recent is replete with corruption scandals from Chirac and and Lula going all the way back to scandals in the Grant administration. Even now, both Biden and his predecessor Trump, are enmeshed in corruption and breaches of the rule of law. Indeed, the history of Apartheid is replete with egregious breaches of the rule of law.. What in white culture would account for these failings?
Are Putin and Xi Jinping constitutionalists? Are they Africans?
In this era of wokeness when, paradoxically, missing a penalty for modern, cosmopolitan England can excite racial animus, we must thread carefully.
President Zuma’s failings, honestly, are human, not African.
Arthur Kobina Kennedy
15th July, 2021.