Wed Oct 26 06:09:22 SAST 2016
Mkhwebane leaves Zuma‚ Van Rooyen interdicts

The new public protector says she will leave the dispute over the state capture report prepared by h.

Politicians' gift of the gab could lead straight to hell

By unknown | Nov 07, 2008 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Having the gift of the gab is the ability to charm the birds out of trees with your silver tongue.

Having the gift of the gab is the ability to charm the birds out of trees with your silver tongue.

For politicians, it can achieve miracles, destroying opposition the way sunshine melts snow.

Recently, there have been election campaigns during which the candidates have had to call on their talent for oratory to convince voters they were the most suitable choices for the job.

In the US election Barack Obama challenged everything the US political establishment stands for by winning the 2008 Democratic Party presidential nomination - and then winning the presidency.

Obama's style wasn't anchored in sweet talk alone. He was, in fact, criticised by some of his supporters for not being as rough and blunt as his opponent. Yet he scored a historic landslide victory.

In Zambia Rupiah Banda won the presidency against Michael Sata, who is challenging the result. Sata has the gift of the gab but he was facing a seasoned politician. Like his old friend Vernon Mwaanga, Banda started his career in the first Zambian government of Kenneth Kaunda.

He was vice-president in the late Levy Mwanawasa's government, having switched from Kaunda's Unip to the hapless Frederick Chiluba's Movement for Multiparty Democracy.

We shouldn't forget the launch of a new South African political party, formed by dissidents from the fractured ANC.

At the time of writing they had not come up with a name, having foundered by using the name of another party. This was one the most inauspicious beginnings of a new party. It would be laughable were it not so grave a lack of foresight.

The Zambian scenario reminds me of a meeting in the 70s to which I accompanied Mwaanga, then the new editor-in-chief of the Times newspapers. Kaunda was due to address a meeting during which he and his old enemy, Harry Nkumbula, were to seal a unity pact.

Nkumbula was leader of the opposition ANC, based in his ethnic turf of the Southern Province. Kaunda was obsessed with making Zambia a one-party state.

He had routinely and publicly insulted his opponents as "idiots" at rallies. These included Nkumbula, but here he was, travelling to Choma, the nerve centre of Nkumbula's stronghold, to appeal for "unity".

I am now, as always, reminded of Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo signing the 1987 Unity Accord, which created a one-party state in Zimbabwe. Mugabe looked the portrait of the mendicant. Nkomo looked smug and even in the hugging that followed Mugabe's enthusiasm seemed more frantic than Nkomo's.

Kaunda and Mugabe, with their gift of the gab, begged for an accommodation from their erstwhile opponents. But what some of their critics have called their evil designs came to naught - both countries firmly rejected the one-party system - as has South Africa.

The gift for oratory is a prerequisite for politicians. To sharpen their skills they might study the work of the greatest Greek orator, Demosthenes.

The legend that he put pebbles in his mouth to improve his voice is just that - a legend. But he made the fatal mistake of backing the wrong politician and killed himself by drinking poison before he could be captured.

It's not enough to have the gift of the gab. If you misuse it, know that only perdition awaits you.

l The writer is deputy editor of The Standard in Zimbabwe.


Login OR Join up TO COMMENT