Road to #SONA2017 – What Does President Zuma Believe In?
By Ncebakazi Manzi
It is a commonly shared opinion among South Africans that President Jacob Zuma does not deliver the most invigorating speeches when he has to read them. He seems to come alive mostly when he is off script and especially when he is delivering a salvo against his opposition inside and outside of the ruling party.
Whether one agrees with him or not, whether one finds his laugh – often at the most serious times – callous or humorous, the point is that the man fares far better when he is speaking off the cuff than when he navigates his way through certain words and numbers off the written page.
But, to limit our assessment of the president’s speeches to how they are delivered rather than their content, would be to rob ourselves of a fundamental role as citizens, which is to engage with the actual content of his speeches.
Such content should be based on the president’s vision for the country and the ideas that help realise that vision. However, when it comes to any original ideas that the president has had over the last 8 years, there seems to be very little evidence of such.
At least that is the opinion of Professor Richard Calland, associate professor in the Department of Public Law. Asked by Kaya FM talk host, John Perlman whether he would be able to describe to someone the key principles that the president believes in, Calland responded:
“The short answer, John, I’m afraid, is no. Is there something called Zumaism like there was Thatcherism or Reaganism or Mbekism? I think there isn’t”.
Calland recalled that when President Zuma came into office, he had predicted that the presidency would be an ideology-free zone.
Listen to the interview here:
Therein lies the problem. We have a president who does not seem to have a clear vision for the country he leads, whether we buy into it or not. The State of the Nation Address should be an opportunity for the president to share this with us but, given that this may be his final delivery, it is best to accept that we won’t ever quite know what his vision is.
And perhaps the real challenge is not that the president has no beliefs or ideological positions but neither of these have to do with a collective dream for the country beyond his individual political survival.
Chances are that if he had concrete ideas we could engage with after each SONA, we would most likely be indifferent to whether those ideas were delivered in a monotonous drone or with the most invigorating oratory skills. Maybe.