It is absolutely mind-boggling that Zuma refuses to come to terms with reality. For a while now he has abused the race card to waspishly dismiss a groundswell of protests against his ruinous leadership.
This past week, however, his ability to resort to his trademark sniggering and ad hominem attacks launched against protesting South Africans was dealt a significant blow. At the main May Day rally organised by labour federation Cosatu in Bloemfontein, the president was booed by workers. In fact, things went so awry that Cosatu ended up calling off the proceedings before Zuma could even address the workers.
It is crucial to make sense of why this was far more than mere embarrassment for him, and why it was a serious setback for the country’s giggler-in-chief.
Until now, he could lie to himself that “racist whites” and “clever blacks” are the only ones who are fed up with his ruinous leadership. That is why he habitually retreats to KwaZulu-Natal where he waxes lyrical about an imagined minority of wayward South Africans who simply do not like him.
It will be interesting to see what pop psychology Zuma’s inner Dr Phil will resort to now that black workers have sent him an unambiguous message that he cannot address them as if he is an innocent leader of a state who is genuinely concerned about the wellbeing of workers.
Those who booed him in Bloemfontein are black. They are a mix of the poor and working class. This was no gathering of white gogos or middle-class blacks and white professionals with Banting foodstuffs in baskets for some post-march picnics on the lawns of the Union Buildings.
A race reductionist response to the collapse of Cosatu’s rally is clearly a nonstarter. It is also not possible to resort to rhetorical class warfare.
But the ANC imagines itself to take the plight of the poor seriously. And who is more important in the ANC’s class analysis than the working poor whose meagre wages also help to support extended networks of family members who are unemployed?
There is simply nowhere for Zuma to hide now. He is not wanted by large numbers of both poor and monied South Africans. It is a cross-class message of deep discontent with his leadership. It is also a cross-race message.
In these circumstances, all that the bankrupt cronies of Zuma, and Zuma himself, can resort to is to deny reality itself.
We witnessed the large numbers of workers booing the president on television but a Free State ANC Youth League leader lied about it without a hint of embarrassment. What was this young Zuma crony’s response? “Not more than 20 people booed President Zuma.”
It was a bald-faced lie. Nothing in his body language suggested an attempt at humour and, like Zuma, this talentless young leader did not seem familiar with the moral emotion of shame.
There was a similar refusal on the part of Free State ANC leader Ace Magashule to accept reality for what it is. He made the slightly less crude point, but one no more ridiculous than what his youth leader had punted: that, since the rally was technically a Cosatu event, the booing did not necessarily have anything to do with the president or the ANC.
What these Zuma cronies have in common with their beloved leader is a willingness to substitute ad hominem attacks for sheer lying once it is no longer possible to dismiss a vast range of people who are unhappy with the president’s non-leadership.
This is truly dangerous. It means the use of propaganda is not off the cards. If demonstrable truths, such as unambiguous footage of booing workers, can be nakedly described as “not more than 20 people” then we will all have to become even more vigilant than usual about the information war games that will be raging as looters try their darndest to cling on to power.
Zuma himself does not value truth. He keeps demonstrating a relationship with the concept of truth that is as unhealthy as Bafana Bafana’s relationship with losing.
But what is maybe more scary is how many leaders in the tripartite alliance, such as Cosatu president S’dumo Dlamini, are propping up someone addicted to lying and looting. What does that tell us?
Sadly, it tells us that he is not alone. He is not the only alliance politician who is a danger to society.
Those who prop him up are either themselves captured by predators such as the Gupta family or have pasts that are so odious that they are the victims of political blackmail by Zuma. Either way the effect on society is the same.
Zuma exiting the political stage is a necessary but insufficient condition for us, as a society, to realise our potential. The rot is so deep that it will take a generation or three of hard work — plus a huge amount of luck — for us to become the inclusive society we had hoped to already be.