President Zuma is under siege
PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma is buckling under the sheer weight of public duty and conflicting political interests.
Television and press images reveal a tired president whose energy is running out. But his heart - probably aided by all manner of vested interests - wants him to stay in power.
But few can miss the fact that his charming ways are increasingly less convincing than they used to be. His giggles no longer seem to have the desired effect of neutralising the enemy against whom he would later unleash a devastating political blow.
Zuma has become less and less militant. He rarely sings Mshini Wam as he used to. And in those instances when he sings it, the song rings hollow.
The message it once carried when it topped the musico-political charts has faded.
Even at the height of The Spear - a short-lived exhibition with long term problematic consequences - he didn't call his war accessories to bring his machine gun.
It was all left to, among others, his wife Nompumelelo Ntuli, SACP leader Blade Nzimande, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, the party's spokesman Jackson Mthembu and a group of supporters to take to the streets.
Even when Zuma takes good and decisive decisions such as firing former police commissioner Bheki Cele, who authorised a dodgy lease deal, there is a sense that Zuma is unable to find comfort in the seat of power. His handling of the (suspended spy boss) Richard Mdluli saga was indicative of a president who seemed to be running out of strategies to ensure his continued stay in power.
He initially appeared seduced by Mdluli's plan to assist with his re-election at the ANC's elective conference in Mangaung. His appointment of Riah Phiyega - still to be taught to salute - as commissioner of police and the recent cabinet reshuffle was indicative of a president not quite sure of what he needs to do to govern effectively.
His ducking of the Youth Day (June 16) rally in Port Elizabeth - supporters of the embattled Julius Malema were allegedly planning to heckle him - added to the impression of a president who is under siege. His absconding has left a bad taste, considering that he failed to arrive on time for the same government-sponsored event last year.
It does not help that Zuma had all the time to address conferences of Cosatu affiliates - including the most insignificant ones.
It was in one of these meetings that he said: "I know what I'm doing". This self-justification made him look like a president hell-bent on lampooning himself in the eyes of the public.
But, what has gone wrong with our president?
At the heart of the president's troubles is Zuma himself, and the seeds of instability in the ANC and in government sown during his rise. Ever since he took over the reins, Zuma has never had time - and it does not look like he created it - to organise himself and set up his administration.
Sadly, Zuma is a very unfortunate president who was never moulded to lift the governance bar left by his predecessors. Unlike former presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, Zuma was a very weak leader from the start.
Mandela's leadership was never questioned three years into his term in office. While the state of the ANC was crucial for traversing the tortuous political terrain, his personality and his aura of moral capital also helped a great deal. For someone who had been in jail for most of his prime life, he handled the reconciliation project and oversaw the nascent government structures relatively very well.
In his third year of his first term, Mbeki was firmly in control of the ANC and the government. His level of education and skill helped him a great deal as he became a technical institutionalist with an uncanny ability to oversee the miniature of the workings of the state.
Yes, he appointed sycophants who would ululate before he could open his mouth, but Mbeki's moral high ground - there were no known vested interests around his neck - helped him to implement unpopular but necessary policies with little resistance from the ANC.
Except for genuine public concern that he was an enigma, his personal conduct hardly came to the fore on governance matters.
Zuma, on the other hand, is yet to settle in the Presidency. He has laughed off a question about what legacy he hoped to leave behind - a tricky question for a president whose credentials and his ability to run government were questioned long before he started.
Mandela and Mbeki were questioned too, but this was largely the function of some racist whites who never believed in a black-led government. Zuma is being questioned not only by South Africans across all races, but also by his own comrades. Who would have had the guts to instruct Mandela or Mbeki in public as if they were children, thus: "Sit down and listen?" Yet, that's what Zuma's Minister of Human Settlements Tokyo Sexwale has recently told the president in public.
Former ANC Youth League leaders Peter Mokaba, Malusi Gigaba and Fikile Mbalula never dreamt of calling Mandela and Mbeki names so soon after they had just taken over the levers of power in the party and the state.
So, what really is or are the sources of Julius Malema et al's guts to call for Zuma's head? We'll explore this question next week.