Jo Mdhlela

Jo Mdhlela

In his biography, Stalin, Russian novelist Eduard Radzinsky remarks: "Every day the largest country in the world (Russia) woke up with his name on its lips. All day long that name rang out in the voices of actors, resounded in song, stared out from the pages of every newspaper ."

Radzinsky continues: "That name was conferred, as the highest of honours, on factories, collective farms, streets and towns."

Reading the book, I could not help imagining the current ANC president; that he too, like Stalin, is a popular politician; and that like the Soviet dictator, Jacob Zuma's name rings out in voices of most South Africans for a variety of reasons; and that like Stalin, he has fanatics and die-hards who are beholden to him; men and women who follow him like a shadow; young and old, who are even prepared "to die for him" if only to ensure that he does not, among other things, face the might of the law for criminal charges preferred against him.

Two issues need to be addressed : cultism, or the willingness to blindly pay homage to an individual is dangerous; it confers blind loyalty, virtue or deference to individuals even when undeserved. Secondly, cultism exploits the weak and vulnerable, turning them into automatons ready to support any cause whatever its outcome.

Radzinsky tells a story of Winston Churchill and how he was mesmerised by Stalin's power .

I will let him repeat bits of the story: "Stalin made a very great impression on us . When he entered the conference room everybody stood up as if at a word of command."

On another occasion Churchill was reported as having said that he was determined not to stand up at the entry of Stalin in the conference room, "but when Stalin entered it was as if some extraterrestrial force lifted him from his seat".

Such was the power Stalin commanded.

Every day we read comment by various analysts who extol to the highest skies Zuma's virtues, and almost brush to the side some of his most glaring weaknesses.

The question that begs for an answer is: Why do we shower praises, and by the same token fail to muster the courage to also highlight our own weaknesses, if we accept we live in a democracy?

The biographer makes the point that even in 1959, when the whole world had heard of Stalin's blood-curdling crimes and human rights abuses, Russia turned a blind eye to the excesses, and continued to project Stalin as a virtuous man.

And these are the words Russians used to pay tribute to one of the worst dictators in history: "It was Russia's great good luck that in the years of its greatest tribulations it had at its head a genius and unyielding military leader like Stalin."

South Africa is treading on dangerous ground. Zimbabwe is where it is today because President Robert Mugabe was extolled by many in Zimbabwe as "Comrade Robert" with no fault, even as things deteriorated; even as the social and economic infrastructures were collapsing; even as the rule of law was being eroded; even as human rights were violated, and the most shocking excesses of human violations were unfolding in Matebeleland and other parts of Zimbabwe.

Nothing could move most Zimbabweans to break ranks with Mugabe. Comrade Robert was faultless; Comrade Robert was a Messiah sent by God to save Zimbabwe from the colonialists.

In SA we choose to turn a blind eye to things that are problematic. Experts, analysts and columnists continue to create an impression that Zuma should not face the might of the law because the criminal charges he faces "are trumped up", and this is despite the ruling by the Supreme Court of Appeal that he should face the music.

Most "thinkers" who do not lack in erudition believe Zuma should be allowed to go free, that charges be dropped, and that charging a man destined to be president of South Africa is not in the best interest of the country.

Are we all not equal before the law? If ordinary Joe Soap were to face similar charges, would there be such an outcry?

A related question is: If Zuma is without blemish, how can his innocence be tested without having the matter adjudicated by a competent, independent judiciary, rather than have the matter handled in the columns of newspapers by lay "analysts-cum-judges"?

Let us stop making Zuma a god, even if there are many of his followers who see him as a "Black Jesus", an allusion he cannot escape because he himself, in one of his pronouncements, told South Africa that the ANC would run the country until the Second Coming.

lFather Mdhlela is an Anglican priest and an ethicist. He writes in his personal capacity.