Not the right time or place

Sunday Independent Editor, Steve Motale

No doubt many South Africans feel let down by President Jacob Zuma.

However, it was unfortunate those unhappy with him chose to vent their frustration at an event hosted in celebration of the life of one of the greatest icons ever to have graced our planet.

Nelson Mandela’s memorial service at the FNB Stadium on Tuesday, an occasion that was meant to be the biggest memorial service the world had ever seen, descended into an embarrassment for South Africa and its leader when sections of the crowd heckled Zuma – not once, but multiple times – in front of dozens of world leaders and a global television audience.

By the time Zuma started his speech, the stadium was half empty, a clear sign that some among the thousands who descended on the venue and endured incessant rain in honour of Madiba felt insulted to be addressed by a man often accused of betraying the legacy of the father of the nation.

This was Zuma’s most humiliating moment of his political career. After all he has, since defeating Thabo Mbeki in Polokwane in 2007, been the country’s most popular politician.

Prior to Tuesday’s humiliation, Zuma had been a darling of the crowds, thanks largely to his singing talent, a tool that has been vital in earning him the hearts of many rank-and-file ANC members and ordinary South Africans. This is one man who is used to witnessing his political foes being subjected to heckling by crowds.

The latest victim of this embarrassing act is DA leader and Western Cape Premier Helen Zille, who was booed in Zuma’s presence by a mob in yellow ANC T-shirts bearing Zuma’s face at a government-sponsored event in October.

Zuma failed to call the rowdy mob to order, and bizarrely his party put the blame squarely on Zille.

While Tuesday’s booing was a long time coming, it took place at the wrong place. A dignified memorial service in celebration of the life a giant who has put his country on the global map is certainly not the right place for heckling. No amount of frustration with Zuma justifies the ugly scenes that embarrassed not only Zuma and the ANC, but shamed the country in front of world leaders.

Much as Tuesday’s events were in bad taste, this should serve as a wake-up call to those who stubbornly deployed Zuma to the country’s highest office despite his questionable moral character.

Since taking over as president, Zuma has treated the office he occupies with utter disdain. Guptagate and the splurging of millions of rands on his private home in Nkandla are only some of the more recent scandals that have disappointed even his die-hard supporters.

Zuma’s popularity may be an electoral asset for the ANC, but the man is so compromised he has become a liability to the country.

Instead of focusing on their primary mandate of serving the interests of the people, government ministers have of late been reduced to puppets preoccupied with defending Zuma.

The heckling of Zuma at a solemn event in honour of the founding father of our democracy cannot be condoned. However, it will be suicidal for the ANC not to take note of the frustration and the public mood.

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