Allan Tacca

To boo or not to boo Zuma and the other big men

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By Allan Tacca

Posted  Sunday, December 22  2013 at  02:00

In Summary

So, what do you do with grown-up characters who see nothing beyond their fat egos?
Enter the big public function, like the Mandela thing, which brought Mr Zuma and the disillusioned masses in close proximity.

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First, some people need help to digest the offal pie served at the recent Mandela events in South Africa; people who have been sulking that their various African heroes who helped in the anti-apartheid struggle were not sufficiently recognised.

One of the unwritten criteria was this: No dinosaur that had been in power for longer than 10 years, and was still in power, was to receive special treatment. They were all “VIP Average”. And you know how these gentlemen love their voices; denying them microphone time and giving Tanzania’s Jakaya Kikwete almost 20 minutes on the day of the funeral must have felt like salt in a knife wound.

Even Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda, who had peacefully handed over power but after overstaying, was given a platform apparently only as an afterthought. And going over his allotted few minutes but saying nothing of interest, his objection to the MC who was getting impatient with his rambling was proof that yesterday’s dinosaurs still love their voices as much as the present ones.

Now, because of the dating system currently in use, South African President Jacob Zuma is not yet officially a dinosaur. However, at the December 10 mammoth memorial, Mr Zuma’s world very rapidly darkened as sections of the crowd booed him at several points in his speech.

Were they uncouth idiots? Could they not suspend their pent-up disapproval of President Zuma, if only to give respect to the departed Nelson Mandela and the solemnity of the occasion?
Maybe. But, from another angle, the hecklers may not look so unreasonable.
Something has been happening, sometimes quite openly, sometimes almost by stealth. Governments around the African continent have been amassing tools of control and repression at an alarming rate.

Nobody is likely to give you an accurate count of the things in their arsenals. It is when the security forces deploy for anti-people operations that you understand what a menace the State has become.

Digital and advanced wireless technologies have joined good old brute force to deal with street demos. It is now easier to mow down dozens of protesters, as they did during the platinum mine troubles in South Africa under the watch of President Zuma.

The street, the work-place compound and other public spaces have become too dangerous for almost any kind of unfriendly demonstration. Side by side with this overwhelming force, is the cynicism, the contempt and personalised power of many rulers.

Once the decision has been made that the application of force can be pushed to excess, as long as the ruler and his cohorts are far away from any physical danger, the abolition of the just society becomes more viable.

After a catalogue of well-publicised misguided actions, for instance, did Zuma need a panel of philosophers to show him that securing his village home did not necessarily mean splashing out $2 million of state funds and adding a swimming pool? No. He had just decided that common sense and the power of reason would not move him. And as we have seen, his type already knows that there is not much to fear from street protests.

So, what do you do with grown-up characters who see nothing beyond their fat egos?
Enter the big public function, like the Mandela thing, which brought Mr Zuma and the disillusioned masses in close proximity.

It was perhaps not the ideal, but it was the safest time to boo him and get an effect.
Unleashing a storm of tear-gas would affect Zuma and all the other guests. An invasion of roughnecks with whips (or kiboko) would greatly embarrass the big man before his fellow big men. The use of firearms could bring on such chaos that Zuma and his friends might have had to flee, probably screaming, which would make them look mortal and even cowardly, with perhaps some very distinguished bladders yielding to join in the mischief.

The pictures in the following day’s media would be exceedingly unflattering. Yes, Mr Zuma at least understood a little; and among the thousands of hecklers could be one or two of tomorrow’s little Mandelas.

Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.