Update February 2014: Seems I was dead wrong. Original article published below.
It is a few days before president-elect Jacob Zuma is sworn into office. His journey thus far has been colourful to say the least and whatever criticism he may attract, you have to give him 10 out of 10 for tenacity and dogged determination.
Much has been written about how the country is on an irretrievable descent into darkness and oblivion. Similarities have been drawn between Zuma and Robert Mugabe implying South Africa, with Zuma at the helm, is on track for a Zimbabwe scenario.
Judging by the number of international movers packing containers in the leafy suburbs of Cape Town, it seems a lot of white people believe the talk of our imminent demise spoken so persuasively around the braai on a Saturday afternoon.
Helen Zille’s hysteria around stopping our new president, the incessant SMS messages urging me to sign up on websites and follow her on Twitter got me thinking that I’ve seen all of this madness before.
It seems some South African white people are sceptics and cynical by nature and hate the thought of change.
David Bullard wrote in a recent column that these people “wake each morning snarling with anger, fire off a few spiteful comments on internet sites from behind the safety of a pseudonym and go about their miserable lives consumed by envy and hatred”.
I think they will change their minds.
Change, according to Kurt Lewin, takes place in three stages. Unfreezing, moving to a new state and refreezing. Unfreezing is a particularly traumatic experience for some. There is resistance to embrace the new as it implies that current beliefs need to be given up as invalid. Often this brings on defensiveness, anger, hostility and struggle.
But we’ve been through all this before.
Cast your mind back to 1985. State of emergency. PW’s wagging finger telling us to “adapt or die”. Thousands of civilian soldiers in army camps. Unrest at university campuses. Troops in the townships. Sanctions. A country divided in every way on race.
Then picture a little black man who in a Ghandi-like way used to walk in front of throngs of toyi-toying protestors. Giving speeches and handing over demands for change. Using his position as the Archbishop of Cape Town to lead and advocate the end of apartheid.
Those who spent any time around whites will remember the venom and hatred poured onto this “monkey”, who was leading the defiance campaign to the then “whites only” beaches. To intimidate him somebody hung an ape foetus in the garden of his Bishopscourt home which was also the target of a graffiti attack stating “I was an Anglican until I put Tu+Tu together”. Imagine how strongly somebody felt about him that they would invest time and energy in doing these things.
Reconcile that with the love many of these same white South Africans now pour on “The Arch” as he is affectionately called. The cynical whites changed.
I remember the front page of the Cape Times splashing the headline that Nelson Mandela was going to nationalise the mines and other major industries. Talk amongst whites was that the country would go like every other African country, it was just a matter of time. If he even got into power. Word around the white dinner tables was that Mandela would be killed by tribal factions vying for power.
As Mandela became president and the country generally prospered, the cynical whites changed once again. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone in the country who doesn’t have a kind word to say about Madiba as he is affectionately referred to today. In fact, so much so, that there are no critics. We all loved Madiba and what he stood for. Always. Didn’t we?
The Flag, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika and Sport
When initially unveiled our new flag was hardly embraced. Rugby stadiums were still filled with the old flag while the new took years to be accepted. Stadiums would bellow out the Afrikaans “Uit die blou…” while the same supporters mumbled their way through Nkosi. This is now changing as white school children learn Nkosi Sikelel’ and their white parents feel proud to sing along. Eventually change happens despite the resistance.
OK own up, did you buy candles and tinned food for your pantry in case the whole country fell apart around our first democratic elections? Did you think you should have? Did you at least talk about it? Remember the hysteria, the predictions about doom and gloom and how it was the beginning of the end.
And then all of a sudden, nothing happened. Except the political violence subsided and we moved into our mostly peaceful new era where the economy took off, we won the world cup and the country generally prospered. Certainly more peaceful and prosperous than the pre-1994 years. Certainly a better outlook than 10 years earlier.
So why is it that some whites are so paranoid and cynical about our new president? I wonder what could belie the anger and the hatred?
I’ve heard people who I regard as very intelligent and very worldly wise declare that they will leave the country if Zuma becomes president. Such decisiveness based on what? “He’s corrupt and he’s a rapist,” they say.
Makhaya Ntini and Zuma — both accused of rape. Ntini was convicted, appealed and then acquitted. Zuma wasn’t even convicted. Why do we hate the one and love the other, holding him up as a national hero, or at least when he gets wickets.
In 2008 the world’s economic system hit the wall and there is ample evidence to show that some of the people who have benefited the most were at best corrupt and in many cases were outright criminals.
While the collapse has actually affected investments in this country and directly impacted individuals’ pockets, there is relatively little abuse for the masterminds behind the collapse. Even Arthur Brown, infamous for his Fidentia scandal, doesn’t attract anywhere near the level of negative attention rained down on Zuma.
When you place Zuma’s corruption allegations, and the fact that he hasn’t ever been found guilty, against this picture, they pale into insignificance. Do you have friends who get away with not paying all of their taxes? Do we get as emotional about the unfairness of that?
“But he has to have a high moral ethic to be the leader of our land,” you say.
Really? Since when did we hold politicians to those standards. Certainly not in the South African governments pre 1994. Hennie van Vuuren’s report in May 2006 entitled Apartheid Grand Corruption details in its more than 90 pages just how corrupt the government was.
Internationally, George Bush — jobs for friends — Dick Cheney — Halliburton. Bill Clinton lying to the country about his sexual affairs. Colin Powell and Tony Blair lying about weapons of mass destruction so as to have a reason to kill soldiers and civilians in Iraq and control their oil. The leaders of the free world? Certainly not moral leaders.
In considering my own view of Zuma, I look at two sources of information. The first is the reported view in our media, which is the loudest and occupies the most mindshare.
The second, is first-hand accounts of interacting directly with the man, which, although I haven’t myself had the experience, I have only heard positive accounts from those that have.
Of the two, I trust the second a lot more than the first for the simple reason that individuals are more motivated to tell the truth when recounting an experience than a media organisation, which has shareholders, headlines, sales and subscriptions sitting higher on the list of priorities than telling a story accurately or thoroughly.
When we look at Mandela, Tutu, the flag, the 1994 elections we as whites mostly predicted things dead wrong. And I think we’ve got Zuma dead wrong too.
My predication is that JZ will far exceed our expectations, which for some are admittedly low. We’ll come to love his machine gun song Umshini Wami, which will become a signature South Africanism like the All Blacks have the Haka. His engagement with people and real issues will warm our hearts.
The story of his life, from herd boy to president, will become a symbol of hope for the people who to date have not had role models they could follow. Instead of defending the current status quo we will defend his Africanism, his costumes and his traditions — showing instead our finger to the world saying — this is the way we do it in South Africa — it’s different not wrong.
I have great faith in our ability as a nation to adapt. Unlike PW Botha who proposed that the only other option was to die, I believe we will just adapt some more. We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again.
What you look for you will see. I believe that we have been influenced to look only at what is wrong with Zuma. Once he is in power and serving as our president, we will be able to judge him on what he achieves. This is much more tangible than how he has been judged to date. I’m hopeful and confident that we will be surprised. Like previous change, which we have first feared and then accepted, JZ too will eventually be loved by the cynical whites.