This column first appeared in City Press.
I remember reading an interview Boris Johnson gave a car magazine in the same year he decided to run for Mayor of London. The famously foppish, awkward old Etonian said: “I’ve never taken myself seriously. I suppose now, I’ll have to change that.”
That line, better than almost any other, illustrates the problem with politics – that as a politician you have to take yourself seriously and that everyone else starts doing exactly the opposite.
In the aftermath of the Guptagate saga, it might be interesting to examine just how seriously our own president takes himself, and how much that affects us.
Number 1 has made very little effort to charm us lately. Every speech is serious, scripted and dreary beyond words.
When, in the last few months, he has gone off script, he has done so only to chastise and discipline veterans, the media or civilians interested in military matters. He has become a curmudgeon. He takes himself very seriously.
What happened to the genial man who danced and sang and hugged and kissed? Some would say the weight of Mangaung, Guptagate, the Central African Republic debacle and overall spiteful politics have taken their toll on JZ’s sense of humour, but the real question is whether or not we should take him seriously?
This president has a credibility problem. We want to like him – he’s convivial and human; but we want more.
We expect someone sensitive and independent, someone who can exert his will to achieve important things, not just the building of private fortress in KwaZulu-Natal or the advancement of friends and family in business – someone we can take seriously when he says that he’s meeting with the other Brics leaders to start a new Brics bank.
Who didn’t immediately jump to the conclusion that such a bank would only prosper if Edward, Duduzile or Duduzane Zuma were made head of it?
When I jokingly play “Chats with Mac” on my radio show, I try to imagine the issues Zuma grapples with every day.
I don’t get the feeling our president really cares that much about us. If he does, he has a funny way of showing it.
I guarantee he is much more interested in being seen to be doing the job a president does than to be doing it. By the way, it’s not like JZ can’t get things done – just look at how he sewed up Mangaung to keep himself in place as top dog. I wish he listened to the electorate with the keenness he exhibits when it comes to his own survival in politics.
When it comes to things like Guptagate, the president is in a unique position to show us just how well he can use his power to right wrongs.
Instead he sends a heavy delegation of his most powerful ministers to exonerate him in a media briefing and in Parliament and stays clear of even broaching the topic that’s on everyone’s minds.
Mr President, with respect, we’re not all as stupid as you think we are. When we see you now, we see the Guptas, a frail Madiba accessory and the thatched Versailles in Nkandla. We don’t pay a lot of attention to what you’re saying.
If there were ever a moment to be serious it would be this one. If you choose to be taken less seriously then we’d like you to take up a vacancy in the court jester department and we can begin looking for another chief.