Zuma on the frontline
ON SEPTEMBER 14 2008, Jacob Zuma addressed the Gauteng ANC election campaign launch amid calls by radicals in the party that then President Thabo Mbeki should be axed.
Julius Malema and co led the charge. Zuma differed.
"We can't hold debates among ourselves that raise the temperature. There is an administration (Mbeki's) that is coming to an end, so (when) you do so (raise debates) you are like someone who beats a dead snake," he told thousands of party supporters in Pretoria. "It died long time ago, but you are still beating it ... wasting your energy."
On the other hand, Malema was campaigning, telling anyone who cared to listen that Mbeki the dictator will certainly go.
On September 21 Mbeki had been told to pack his bags and go. It was a sweet victory for Malema and the radicals. The dead snake had been crushed into smithereens.
Malema was Zuma's foot soldier. He vowed to "kill for Zuma". Those who questioned Zuma's credentials were cockroaches, baboons and God knows what else he thought of them.
The daughter of Zuma's friend who laid rape charges against the ANC president - Zuma was acquitted - had "enjoyed it". Zuma, the democrat had opened debates shut down by Mbeki, the dictator.
While this was happening, Zuma was enjoying his pang of eminence. By tacitly and openly endorsing Malema's views, Zuma was giving the young lion political lessons.
One lesson was that you can get what you want if you shout enough and threaten to kill people. The other was that the best thing to do when addressing a rally is to call people names, including animal names.
So when Malema and co looked at Zuma, they saw someone who was very tolerant and malleable - attributes whose usefulness have long been verified by Schabir Shaik.
What Zuma didn't realise - or perhaps thought didn't really matter - was that the little, if any, "moral capital" he had or what Reuel Khoza calls "moral quotient" was being eroded.
Malema and co had ascribed to Zuma someone they could not respect. If he could tolerate their disrespect of others, they must have concluded, he surely didn't respect himself.
And an education without utilitarian ends is, of course, useless. Once it was convenient, Malema decided to put the education he received from Zuma to good use.
Those opposed to the nationalisation of mines won't be re-elected in Mangaung, Malema barked. By then a president of a functioning republic, Zuma was put in the spotlight: to endorse the dangerous call and be guaranteed re-election in Mangaung or to tell Malema to back off.
Zuma had no experience of the latter. He had never told Malema where to get off. He had no clue how Malema would react. He decided on a middle route: "Let's debate."
Then Malema decided on a heightened anti-HIV sexual responsibility campaign: one girlfriend, one boyfriend; one wife, one husband. It was slightly below the belt for our polygamous president.
Then he attacked Zuma for his association with the rich Gupta family and the president's approval of his son and nephew getting rich quickly soon after he was elected.
Then Malema retracted his statement that Zuma's rape accuser had "enjoyed it".
Then he drew comparisons between Mbeki and Zuma, the former being an advocate of the African agenda, while the latter sought to denude it of its meaning.
Then he cast Zuma as a sellout on the Libyan crisis. Coupled with this, Malema advocated for regime change in Botswana and endorsed Robert Mugabe without any sense of irony whatsoever about who really the dictator was.
In all of Malema's pronouncements, the institutions of the ANC and the government were caught in the crossfire.
Although the target was Zuma, the manner in which he had "politically raised" Malema was now making his leadership of the ANC untenable and his management of the government difficult.
With investors knowing how he had allowed Malema to campaign successfully against a head of state, they could not rule out the possibility that whatever Malema was saying had Zuma's approval.
Zuma seemingly woke up too late and tried to institute disciplinary action against Malema. In a way, he was trying to recoup the little, if any, "moral capital" he had to enable him to run the ANC and the government.
In his book The Politics of Moral Capital, political analyst John Kane explained the dialectical relationship between the moral capital of leaders and of the institutions over which they preside. Moral capital is borne of judgments people make of a leader or an institution.
Those who pursue goals and values that society can identify with, and do so effectively, earn moral capital - a reputation of trustworthiness that can be deployed to good political use.
"Where, for example, stable institutions exist within a stable regime and where stability is in part a function of a wide acceptance of the regime's legitimacy, political office will form significant repositories of the regime's moral capital and be available to incumbents more or less independently of their character or ability," wrote Kane.
"It is also true, nevertheless, that incumbents' actions are liable either to degrade or confirm the reputation of the institution."
By politically educating Malema the way he did, Zuma helped degrade the institution of the ANC.
Malema - now expelled - and those who still carry his DNA or chant "Long live the spirit of Malema!" in the ANC, will continue to attack Zuma for as long as he is president.
Zuma remains popular enough to be re-elected. But getting votes is not enough to lead effectively. His lack of moral capital makes him and the institutions he leads vulnerable to attack, thus hindering their effectiveness.