Jesus and the post-truth politics of Jacob Zuma: The president speaks with a forked tongue

The president speaks with a forked tongue, writes MetjiR. Makgoba

WHEN Jesus appealed to his disciples to uphold honesty in their deeds in the Book of John, he told them that the truth would set them free.  Jesus cut a high-minded figure and inspired his followers to love the truth. His values and sermons have since found expression in many societies across the globe and have been chiselled into law and institutions to encourage accountability and good governance. He envisaged an ethical world which endorsed altruism, integrity, and openness, as well as a principled and thought leadership. Like a true leader, he knew that lies and deception cannot build and lead a nation to prosperity.

They have an annoying tendency of haunting the perpetrator and the potential to ruin a reputation. Anonymous summed up the dangers of lying: “If you tell the truth, it becomes part of your past. If you tell a lie, it becomes part of your future.”  This observer could not have been more truer. Despite that it is downright immoral, few minds are able to sustain lies without falling into contradictions. Besides, lying does not help any cause.

Whenever the story of Jesus enters into the South African politics, it makes a paradoxical tale of horror because of the calibre of President Jacob Zuma – the man who always calls his name whenever is in trouble.It has also become a recipe for political memes. Several leaders, including former COSATU Secretary-General Zwelinzima Vavi, have jokingly said they have seen Jesus roaming the streets of Nelson Mandela Bay, Port Elizabeth, to witness the ANC’s defeat to the Democratic Alliance.

When he is pushed against the wall, Zuma likes to evoke the memories of Jesus Christ among his supporters to cast himself as a victim and pour scorn on his detractors. He has recently compared himself to the Messiah as an attempt to regain his waning powers and salvage his diminishing political capital. “Because we are doing good things, we are hated. Even those who were with Jesus turned against him,” he said.This statement should worry any caring citizen. It is not clear what good is he talking about.
Under his watch, the Teflon president has taken several calamitous decisions, including the unceremonious firing of former Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene, to pile misery on the ailing economy. Unemployment has soared under his leadership, and he does not have a clear plan to create more jobs.
This is a clear demonstration that Zuma and his inept advisors have discounted the havoc they have created.
He has also

watched over the cancer of corruption spreading itself to different parts of state organs. 
True to his character, the only intervention he could offer about the scourge of corruption destroying his government is that he knows people who have been stealing from the public purse. “I am just watching them. I know them‚“ he said. Jesus! By any standard, Zuma’s utterances must cause a public outcry, but people have grown tired of hearing his conspiracy theories and condemning the man for his lack of leadership.

Harmfully eccentric as he has proven to be, they choose to giggle at his blunders, because they have lost confidence and lowered their expectations. His gaffes quickly fade away from the public scene as an addition to the silly moments that have always characterised his presidency.

Considering that Zuma has a tainted reputation, it is inexplicable how he could even attempt to fashion himself as Jesus. His government – rocked by political and sexual scandals that tore apart the dignity of his office – is antithetical to the symbol of the Saviour. Judging by his scandalous past, Zuma’s use of respectable religious figures, such as Jesus, to validate himself should not be looked at with puppy-dog-eyes.
It is a strategic endeavour to deceive the rural poor who continue to see him as their father figure according to African religion, adding to the myth that their social grants – the source of their financial security – are a uniquely ANC policy and would disappear if another government takes over. 
Other people wonder why such a morally repugnant individual could use Jesus’s name to elevate himself and repeatedly tell his staunch supporters that his party would remain in power until the return of Jesus.
“I hear people complaining when we say the ANC will rule fully until Jesus comes back but we have been blessed,” he said before the 2016 local government election.

More shockingly, it is the same Zuma who took a swipe at Christianity for bringing problems in Africa. “Those were times that the religious people refer to as dark days but we know that, during those times, there were no orphans or old-age homes. Christianity has brought along these things,” he said in 2011 at KwaMaphumulo, Kwazulu Natal. It does not require a rocket scientist to understand Zuma’s forked tongue.Traditional logic does not apply here. This begs the question: how can Zuma reject the Christian religion but glorify its teacher and leader, Jesus? But this is not indecipherable.

Jesus aside, Zuma represents the body of politics – politics of convenience – which has developed a complicated relationship with the truth and permeates all levels of society. The truth has disappeared from their faculties and does not hold a sacred place in our democracy. It came as no surprise when South Africans learnt that Zuma lied to the nation when he claimed that the former public protector, Advocate Thuli Madonsela, did not give him a chance to respond to the allegations against him in the State of Capture Report.

It later emerged that when Madonsela tried to get answers from Zuma in vain, he admitted to have different truths depending on whether you are a friend, journalist, colleague, lawyer or public protector.  Zuma might have allowed the tax payer to fork millions of rand to upgrade his private residence and fight his legal woes but when he deals with the truth, he is a very economical man. Although he is in a league of his own, do we expect the attitude of individuals such as State Security Minister David Mahlobo, and Communication Minister Faith Muthambi, towards the truth to be different? It is not possible.
If their leader tells lies unabated, should his followers be punished? They are not the first ones to lie through their teeth and find their lies getting halfway around the world.

Nonetheless, people have always been cynical about politicians. Even though post-truth politicians such as U.S. president-elect, Donald Trump, UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson, and Ukip acting leader Nigel Farage, have taken the art of lying to another level, many politicians always enjoyed a relationship to the truth that is chilly, distant and occasional. As George Orwell, British novelist and political critic, once noted, “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful.”

Although the term “post-truth politics” was only added to our lexicon six years ago, politicians have always interpreted the truth differently. Some claim to speak for the masses even though they know very well that even their party manifestos do not represent the demands of the people.
Even the most democratic leaders and parties decide what people need and act accordingly. But they have always represented their manifestos as the wishes of the people. As political and environmental activist, George Minbot, puts it, “the idea that parties are guided by the policy decisions made by voters seems to be a myth. In reality, the parties make the policies and we fall into line.” 
But because politicians’ lives have always been of high public interest and under intense spotlight, their lies get easily uncovered and reach public domains, unless they attempt to build impenetrable syndicates and acquire hegemonic powers. This sometimes happens because politicians tend to speak off the cuff and are bound to contradict themselves. Zuma is no stranger to this.

His spin-doctors, particularly the retired Mac Maharaj, have always tried to contextualise and polish Zuma’s lies, sometimes adding an interesting twist that intensifies the controversy. They also spend significant time to defending his web of lies, and actions. It seems that we have trained our attention only on politicians, and forget to see how lies have permeated to other sectors of society.
Even though it can be forgiven, our one-sided attention to Zuma and his cronies, who have learnt to tell lies without blinking, tends to cloud us from realising how multinational corporations in retail, mining, and energy sectors have been lying under the pretext of social responsibility – a noble cause for businesses.

Unlike politicians who lie bluntly, these organisations have adopted subtle and sophisticated methods of communication to make their lies sound truthful. Many companies write on their websites that they engage in philanthropy for the sake of developing their local communities rather than to chip favourable images and reputations. The cliché – giving back to the community – has been repeated overtime to emphasise their purported contribution to the well-being of society since corporate social responsibility (CSR) became part of corporate life.

But they ask “what’s in it for us” when they develop their CSR strategies before they commit to any programme. When they present their annual reports, they write as if their sole of intention of engaging in CSR was to “give back to the community.” This is half-truth. The fact that they strategically chose to sponsor a programme to gain media coverage and ultimately build a good reputation is deliberately omitted.

Could F. de la Rochefoucauld, late-noted French author of maxims and memoirs, have imagined the world of post-truths when he said, “We would frequently be ashamed of our good deeds if people saw all of the motives that produced them?”

Metji R. Makgoba is a Commonwealth scholar and writes in his personal capacity.



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