Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The State of the Nation

I was thinking for a while now about the State of the Nation address by President Jacob Zuma, 20 years after the release of political prisoners like Nelson Mandela and the then banned liberation movements. This address was expected to be one of the most definitive in recent years. There are of course also the controversies which embroil the president. Apparantly there was some 'robust debate' behind closed doors before the speech and some serious damage control, the last few days. But he stepped up, as usual, jovial and (as usual) our ruling party clapped the hands vigorously as he made his points and laughed at his jokes.

There is however more to be said and done then mere 'robust debate' and another round of handwringing apologies from Zuma. The African National Congress voted him to be their leader at Polokwane and offered him to the nation and the world, as their finest. For them, he embodies the proud legacies of the African liberation movements, despite the serious misgivings from many, in particular from those who supported the liberation struggle and also paid dearly for our freedom.

But there is more, as these things also have an impact on our children. I also listened, in the week, to a interview by Tim Modise with three young people. These were special young learners. They were finalists, chosen in a nation-wide leadership competition. All three young bright leaders said, upon a question by Tim, that they would without doubt, choose ANC-Youth League President, Julius Malema, on their future cabinet. As long as he don't speak to the media and as long as he does his work. The only young man amongst these three candidly (and proudly!) proclaimed that indeed, Julius Malema is his role-model. Seriously.

Something is missing. Evidently there are different frames of references at work amongst a sizable number of our population. Perhaps, the words of Antje Krog expresses it better. In her book 'Begging to be Black', she confesses to her discourse partner, a distinguised philosopher in Western Philosophy.

'Since 1994 I have lived with a black majority that asserts itself more and more and more confidently, as well as the many black people from the rest of Africa who streams into the country. So I find most of my references and many of my frameworks of understanding to be useless and redundant...' (2009:93)

She continues later,

'At times when my president, Thabo Mbeki, (it was before the now famous re-call) speaks, and he is an intelligent man, I sit like somebody in complete darkness. It's not that I don't understand what he is saying; I don't know where it is coming from, from within what logic it wants to assert 'itself'as right. (:94)

One would think that this is simply a white, western malaise, as Krog think. But black intellectual, Xolela Mangcu however saw it coming already in 2007, as he was grappling with the Zuma phenomenon. He states,

I do not think there is any commentator who has been fairer to Zuma than I have. I have refrained from commenting on his guilt or innocence, arguing insistently that that should be the province of the courts. In article after article, I counselled the ANC to find a political solution to the matter. However, Zuma has brought a political solution without much help from the ANC or anybody else. By his own actions he has turned his campaign into a 'theatre of the absurd'. It is one thing to make a mistake, but quite another to display a congenial proclivity to self-destruction. One moment he is taking a shower after sex to prevent contracting HIV, the next moment he is an honorary priest....But one does not have to believe in Zuma's guilt or innocence to reach the conclusion that the man is out of his depth in the high-stakes game of repressentational politics. After all, leaders are the embodimens of our aspirations. We expect that they should carry themselves with grace and dignity. They should be carriers of the finest ethical traditions of their political movements and societies.

He continue,

Part of the attraction of ANC leaders such as A.B.Xuma, James Moroka, Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki is that their were or are gentlemen in the finest sense of that term, carrying themselves with grace and dignity. The same holds for those other eminent gentlemen of the revolution, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe and Steve Biko.

This is the attraction that Krog speaks of as she, in her book looks at the life of King Moshoeshoe and how he and the many African leaders mentioned earlier, have been embedded in a broader communinal sense of being. It is out of this community that the leaders emerged. The question then remains: what does the current leaders say about the parties that offer them to the electorate, but also (more disturbing): what does it say about the nation?
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