In 2015 I wrote a piece titled Jacob Zuma, the trickster in which I drew parallels between Zuma’s political Machiavellianism and the slippery trickster figure, uchakide, the African mongoose.
In the piece I drew on an old folk tale in which Chakide, the trickster, first persuades a grandmother to submit to being cooked in a pot, and thereafter he persuades the grandchildren to eat the cooked remains of their granny.
Even when the grandkids begin to suspect they are eating their own granny, Chakide pressurises them to keep eating until they are finished.
Once the kids have entirely consumed their precious gran, Chakide runs off and reveals his macabre deception, mockingly telling them: “Peh! Peh! Nadla ugogo wenu! (You have eaten your grandmother).”
The folktale is a clear parallel for how Zuma wielded manipulative power within the ANC.
His leadership has been about playing a game of someone disarmingly plain and rural.
With that display of rural plainness, Zuma was able to manoeuvre his way through troubles, appearing to be an uncomplicated man of the people.
The ANC itself, much like the children in the folktale, went along, eating up its principles, pushing its own tolerance for distasteful behaviour further, absorbing more and more of the leader’s weaknesses, believing that the rural person in him had a boundary of some sort.
Yet Zuma was far from plain. Unable to curb his taste for accumulation – so obviously on display with the massive size of the Nkandla homestead – his need to accrue became a burden to the nation.
If anything, Zuma has taught us that there are times when a person’s conduct in his household has a bearing on his general orientation towards public office.
Some people may consider it unfair for me to say this, but no adult who has a pattern of failure to financially maintain the needs of his immediate household should be trusted with public office.
I emphasise pattern here.
Any adult who has over two dozen children and continues to have children when his own already-generous public servant salary is overstretched is a reckless adult.
Expect the person who behaves so patently irresponsibly regarding his own household matters to bring the exact same mode of behaviour into public office.
Zuma’s personal behaviour has displayed incorrigibility.
Ironic, for a man who has styled himself as the quintessential Afri-can patriarch, that he fails so dismally ukondla (to maintain his household).
Unfortunately, that he sacrificed his life for the struggle is no excuse since, firstly, he built up sufficient social and political capital over the past 20 years in government, and he could have set himself on the correct adult path towards household stability.
People will tell you we are prejudiced towards Zuma’s cultural outlook when we criticise his expansive household tendencies.
But it is Zuma’s behaviour that was the insult to African culture.
Traditionally, a man was expected to take on a household size fit for his level of economic wealth.
Besides, each wife in a polygamous setup would have had to till her own fields and contribute towards the upkeep of her own children.
There was nothing fundamentally African about our president’s lack of responsibility.
Instead, what was strange for someone like me, having grown up in a rural area, was to watch a man who violated every code of masculine honour.
Worst of all, this was a man who seemed to be at the total behest of venal men – the Guptas – who seemed to have turned him into a mendicant in his own home.
For years it has bothered me that this African man, who should at the least have an inner sense of inkani (stubbornness) willingly placed himself at the beck and call of the Gupta nonentities.
Everything he does violates what I grew up being taught as African sense, and nothing he has done remotely resembles the universally accepted norm of “responsible adult male”.