state is half-sinking, half-sailing

Sunday Times interview with President Jacob Zuma at Genadendal in Cape Town.Pic: ESA ALEXANDER 19/02/2010. © THE TIMES
Sunday Times interview with President Jacob Zuma at Genadendal in Cape Town.Pic: ESA ALEXANDER 19/02/2010. © THE TIMES

TO what do you attribute the rise of President Jacob Zuma?

TO what do you attribute the rise of President Jacob Zuma?

I see the rise of the Zuma-led ANC as a reaction to the grievances that a range of strata and classes had against (former president) Thabo Mbeki.

This coalesced with the longing of ordinary people for a better life. The SACP and Cosatu leadership projected Zuma as a left leaning individual capable of providing a transformatory vision.

His record belies this, among other things, because he and Mbeki, then in leadership, both resigned from the SACP in 1990.

There were very few differences between Mbeki and Zuma until 2005. Zuma never objected to any of the policies Mbeki initiated.

Part of Zuma's popularity can arguably be linked to projecting himself as all things to all people. Has this proved sustainable?

The immediate backing of Zuma was not a cohesive grouping. Their aspirations clashed, insofar as Zuma cannot access sufficient patronage to satisfy all.

He also needs much for his own lifestyle. There are only so many jobs in government and on policy there was an inherent potential clash between the union base and capital.

The SACP's (Blade) Nzimande could follow Zuma and project him as what he is not without being held accountable to powerful forces. (Cosatu's Zwelinzima) Vavi has known his own followers require substantial transformation.

When big capital appeared to welcome Zuma, they did so with a proviso - that he should not be reckless.

Zuma has to choose between workers and capital, but he leaves the state on autopilot. He makes empty promises of 600000 jobs and those provided are short-term, reinforcing the capital-intensive economy.

The job losses in the same period are over one million.

While the macro-economic policies are conservative, there may be a systemic crisis because of ANC and government-tolerated irregularities and apparent corruption. There is a constant evocation of violence and militarism. When law and order and the Constitution are under threat that is more than a party political matter. That Zuma himself is evasive and has not faced the fraud allegations against him does not evoke confidence.

What do you mean by the Zuma project and where does that project stand today?

Zuma was meant to be the glue holding together contending forces and ambitions. There was no ideological content. It was about personality: Zuma versus Mbeki.

His own abuses have made the glue dissolve. The ship of state is half sinking, half sailing.

There was considerable dedication in avoiding the fraud charges being heard judicially, ambiguity about declaring interests and opposition to lifestyle audits, which, if anything, need to be broader.

He has also been quick to accept explanations of apparently ill-gotten gains of (ANC Youth League leader Julius) Malema.

Malema's initiation of the chant "kill for Zuma" surrounding suppressing Zuma's charges is a powerful evocation of the acquiescence of ANC leadership in war talk.

The revelations of his tenders confirm the apparent corruption of the project.

What effect have Zuma's sexual escapades had on the Zuma project?

Zuma's rise was immediately sexist and homophobic. His conduct in the rape trial was extremely insensitive, singing "bring me my machine gun".

He also reminisced on his youthful gay bashing, (for making personal inclinations public, he duly apologised).

He has formed alliances with the "traditional" chiefs and the National Interfaith Leadership Council under Rhema Church's (Ray) McCauley, sidelining the long-time anti-apartheid ally, the South African Council of Churches.

The chiefs are promised powers at a local level that will undermine the democratic character of the post-1994 order.

They are also the first patriarchs of this continent and oppose gender equality and are now part of initiating virginity tests.

Both the NILC and chiefs are homophobic in a situation where there is an epidemic of murders of African lesbians, and without adequate support systems for others who are not murdered but victimised, for example through "rape as conversion".

Zuma himself is upbraided for polygamy or impregnating women. But how many other women have been part of his nightlife, making him the envy of other serial adulterers in leadership?

His "conquests" are not because Zuma is sexually irresistible, but an extreme patriarchalism, combining power and wealth (presumably from similar sources to those mentioned in the Schabir Shaik trial).

How does SA go forward?

Zuma may go, but no one can hold things together. I do not believe that the ANC will be voted out of power in the short run.

Cope emerged from within the ANC but did not present a clear alternative. My sense is that a broad, popular, democratic, transformatory, pluralist, gender and sexualities-friendly, emancipatory platform needs to be advanced.

Neither a purely left project, nor one excluding individual ANC members. I have put forward elements of these ideas, but they need further thinking. The vision needs to be taken forward by those who need and believe in a "better life", equality, dignity and justice for all.

lRaymond Suttner is a former ANC-SACP underground operative, UDF, ANC and SACP leader, political prisoner and author of a forthcoming book on the Zuma era to be published by Jacana. He is currently a research professor at Unisa.