Former president Jacob Zuma has taken a leaf from Donald Trump’s book, using social media to remake his image as a “good guy” and gain public sympathy, while using it as the first step of a “fight back” strategy against his “enemies”.
And a major target for his “influencing” campaign is the “woke” and “lit” youth on social media platform Twitter.
Various experts told The Citizen Zuma realised he was in trouble after the High Court in Pretoria ruled he must pay for his own legal costs during his current corruption, fraud and money laundering trial.
To win support, he decided to use the old Marxist strategy of gaining the moral high ground over those he considered to be his opponents.
Political analyst Andre Duvenhage said Zuma was in a struggle for survival.
“To him, politics is one big struggle where you must never give up. He is using the strategy where you win moral high ground by identifying something bad to compare yourself with, so as to show that you are not that bad,” Duvenhage said.
In a video posted on his Twitter account at the weekend, Zuma said he was being targeted because he was asked to pay his own legal fees, while apartheid-era killers of ANC comrades had their legal costs paid for by the democratic state.
He also complained about lack of consistency by judges who gave contradicting judgments against him.
“He is using the politics of dialectics to define moral high ground for himself, but there is something bigger than this that he is up to,” Duvenhage said.
Reputational strategy expert Clive Simpkins said Zuma wanted to stay relevant by using social media to air his grievances.
“He has taken a leaf from Donald Trump’s book. He wants to stay relevant by using Twitter as a very powerful platform to fight back,” Simpkins said.
The politician had realised he had easy access to an audience.
“He is using Twitter as a way of airing his grievances. At the same time he is throwing the cat among the pigeons for the other parties – especially the ANC – and this way he wants to shift the public perceptions considering his views or what he is posting on social media.”
The expert described Zuma’s approach as a “very effective strategy” and a “clever way to do it” – but questioned its success because only 13% of South Africans were on Twitter.
He is targeting the so-called “woke-and-lit” brigade – the youth characterised by the #FeesMustFall students who used Twitter as their main communication and campaign mode.
“He had realised he can influence the young people who are on Twitter the most,” Simpkins said. “All of this is a disruptive mechanism so as to influence the public opinion.”
Head of sociology at the University of the Free State, Dr Sethulego Matebesi, said someone within the Zuma camp might have advised him to consider Twitter as it is a powerful platform to influence people and to clean his tarnished image. “One day in politics is quite a long period,” Matebesi said
He said Zuma and his people are fighting back as they had realised the enormity of the charges Zuma was facing.
According to Matebesi, Zuma’s main aim was to project a positive image of himself.
“This is not about the ANC, but it’s about Zuma himself. Remember, there is too much at stake for him should he lose his trial. He faces very serious charges in court and to deal with this he must get public sympathy and have a good image,” Matebesi said.
Simpkins said people in the know would describe Zuma as a narcissistic person because he did not want to accept responsibility for wrong-doing, but used a platform as a blame-apportioning mechanism.
“On Twitter, he is not buying space or buying ads or paying for anything – he is publishing his views for free.
“In the process, he is trying to rehabilitate his reputation. He is stirring up the pot to create chaos before the election in 2019,” Simpkins said.
Duvenhage also claimed Zuma has a bigger hidden agenda.
“There are indications that they want to establish a political party and Zuma is the martelaar (tortured) of the whole scheme.
“He is redefining and reinventing his political future. He is busy mobilising support – and I understand he is being supported by Supra Mahumapelo and others,” said Duvenhage.
Cope national spokesperson Dennis Bloem described Zuma’s video statement as “old worn-out tactics of playing the victim and looking for sympathy”.
He claimed such tactics were outdated and would not work this time.
“It is Zuma’s constitutional right to approach the Supreme Court of Appeal, but he must know that he will use his personal finances to challenge any criminal case,” said Bloem.
“Zuma must stop insulting the intelligence of the people of South Africa. We have seen through his cheap tricks.
“Our advice is that he must prepare himself for prison, like his comrade John Block,” Bloem said.