I really appreciate it when President Jacob Zuma abandons his written speeches to speak from the heart. When he does that, he does us the courtesy of being frank, rather than rehearsing the inherent vagueness of a prepared speech curated by many different hands balancing disparate factional interests and hoping for a performance of inoffensive platitudes.
Take yesterday. He spoke for some two hours. As I predicted, the speech was, for over ninety percent of that time, uninformative and dull as the faux revolutionary performances of paid Twitter.
But there were two honest moments that underscored the truth about president Zuma- pace the written text:
1. Zuma, not for the first time and not for the last time, told us that he doesn’t like constitutional democracy. He thinks that using the courts to test the exercise of public power is a subversion of democracy.
That tells us the principle of constitutional supremacy, and its related norms such as the principle of legality, offend him.
He thinks, instead, that democracy is wholly to be understood as licensing the political party who got the most votes in an election to do what it wants to in the state and with the state.
Thank you Mr President for ignoring your speech writers and being honest about your disdain for constitutional democracy. Like you, I’m brutally honest about my worldview. Thank you for showing us who you are. It’s up to your party in turn to tell us whether they are indifferent to having a leader they have seconded the highest office in the land who despises the very model of democracy the ANC signed up for when it voted for Act 108 of 1996, the final version of the constitution.
2. Zuma also berated ANC veterans near the end of his speech. He painted a picture of them undermining the bottom-up democratic processes of the ANC by implying that they are elitist, have a disdain for the ANC branches, and simply want to operate outside the processes of the party.
There was a related subtext in the speech aimed at the NEC members who have been agitating for him to go. Here the implication was that Zuma was elected by the ANC conference delegates and that any disagreeing ANC NEC members obviously want to subvert the will of the branches.
A few observations about this: First, before one even debates whether Zuma is right or not, clearly the appeal to unity in the prepared written remarks was insincere. It was not Zuma who appealed for unity. It was the speechwriters and disparate interest groups who sought to stage manage the deep differences within the ANC. By lashing out at the veterans, and the NEC members who do not think he should stay on, Zuma told his party that it is not a united party and he was not interested in running with the plan of projecting unity.
Second, Zuma again here shows that his commitment to internal democracy is as weak as his (lack of) commitment to constitutional democracy as state president. Why else undermine the authority of the democratically elected NEC structure? Doing so demonstrated a refusal to respect the construction of the ANC itself. NEC members have legal authority that Inheres in the branches. Driving a wedge between the branches and the NEC is an insult to the branches. It is a naked attempt to pit the branches against a structure the branches had elected into office at Mangaung.
This means Zuma despises constitutionalism inside the ANC just as he does so in the state.
As for his vilification of the veterans, they might not be a constitutional structure of the ANC but to show the middle finger to the deep love, concern and honest appraisal of stalwarts about the party is to put your individual career ahead of the party and ultimately ahead of the interests of the country.
Ultimately the speech by Zuma yesterday raises one blunt question of urgent importance: How long will the ANC ignore Zuma revealing his true self to the party and to the country?