Tradition’s desire: The politics of culture in the rape trial of Jacob Zuma

19 November 2009

In April 2006, African National Congress (ANC) president and one-time South African deputy president Jacob Zuma appeared in court to defend himself against a charge of rape. When called to the stand and asked to recall the events of 2 November 2005, Zuma chose to deliver his testimony in his Zulu mother tongue. This was his constitutional right, the right of an accused individual to defend himself in any one of South Africa’s eleven official languages. Yet Zuma’s linguistic choice was laden with political meaning and opportunity. Speaking isiZulu within a court that had thus far proceeded in English highlighted his membership to a particular cultural group and invoked his well-established reputation as a ‘man of tradition’. Furthermore, it drew attention to the courtroom also as a specific (as well as adversarial) cultural space, with Anglophone traditions, European legal origins and an Afrikaans-speaking judge who used Latin legal phrasings in his ruling. In the context of a nation with a deeply racist history, including decades of state-sponsored ethnic management and subjugation, Zuma’s linguistic medium was part of a powerful message: that this trial was also about the politics of culture.

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Jacob Zuma and the evanescent legacy of nineteenth-century Zulu cosmopolitanism and nationalism

19 November 2009

‘Cosmopolitan’ is not exactly a word that comes to mind when describing South African society — both contemporary and historical. Yet, if we take the word ‘cosmopolitan’ as implying an embrace of the globe; an unbounded vision of humanity; then South Africa has been in the embrace of the world for quite some time. Whether one is thinking of Adamastor — the Grecian-inspired mythological character invented by the Portuguese poet Luís de Camões in his epic poem Os Lusíadas (first printed in 1572) — or the indentured labourers (Indian and Chinese) who were transported to South Africa in the 1860s and early 1900, South Africa has been in the world’s line of vision for centuries and a destination for many. What has complicated South Africa’s ‘cosmopolitan’ history is its racialisation: the history of apartheid is in some way a history of the denial of the hybridity and indeterminancy created by the forced and voluntary migrations and presence of innumerable cultural influences. The search for purity — a core value of the Afrikaner Nationalists of the 1930s — was a symptom of this fear of ‘otherness’. The ascendancy of Jacob Zuma to the presidency of the African National Congress (ANC) and his inauguration as South Africa’s fourth democratically-elected president has once again forced South Africans to reconsider what they understand to be the cosmopolitan values of the society. ‘Cosmpolitanism’ should not be confused with that other perennial debate in South Africa, namely, the ‘Rainbow nationalism’ debate.

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Populism and the National Democratic Revolution in South Africa

19 November 2009

KwaZulu-Natal has been and continues to be mutinous. There is a sense in the popular imagination, usually constructed by the media and embellished in everyday conversation, that there is something different, insubordinate and robust about the province. There is

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Why is the ‘100% Zulu Boy’ so popular?

18 November 2009

In 2009 Jacob Zuma won the endorsement of Nelson Mandela and the overwhelming support of voters, thousands of whom wore ‘100% Zulu Boy’ t-shirts to celebrate the approaching end of an enigma, namely Thabo Mbeki’s technocratic (and some say authoritarian) rule over the African National Congress (ANC). Indeed, Jacob Zuma is admired at home because, unlike his inscrutable predecessor, he is a recognizable man of tradition and struggle. Decades ago, the young Zuma left his reserve for work and activism in a South African city, sharing a formative experience with millions in his country, including his idol Mandela. Thus, Zuma travelled a common path never trodden by his rival, an intellectual almost destined from birth for exile overseas. While Mbeki prepared for an economics degree at Sussex University, Zuma reached for the iconic Kalashnikov, his ‘mshini wami’. And no sooner had the cosmopolitan Mbeki settled into his English surroundings, than the guerilla Zuma (arrested and jailed) drew inspiration on Robben Island from boyhood tales of Zulu King Cetshwayo’s defeat of British invaders at Isandlwana. This stunning victory in 1879 also fired the imaginations of Zuma’s iconic cellmates. They, along with the ‘100% Zulu Boy’, debated tactics of armed struggle under the radar of prison censors, creating an oral world of military strategy with century-old resonances smuggled in from Cetshwayo’s royal house.

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The Zuma era in ANC history: New crisis or new beginning?

18 November 2009

The inauguration of the Jacob Zuma government was met with considerable popular approval and initially generated a great deal of euphoria, hope and encouragement, (as well as dread and contempt on the other hand). While this paper attempts to move behind these emotions to the character of the phenomenon, I have no contempt towards the outpouring of joy and hope invested in what is claimed to be a new beginning, albeit not always for the same reasons.

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Scoring an own-goal

18 November 2009

South Africa is revolting. Since May 2009 there has been a wave of uninterrupted township as police clash on an almost weekly basis with unemployed protestors and striking workers. A recent estimate counts 63 major ‘service delivery’ protests since January 2009 with 24 percent of protests taking place in Guateng and 19 percent in the Western Cape and Mpumalanga. As the protests continue, increasing strain is being put on the Tripartite Alliance as some African National Congress (ANC) leaders in national and provincial government have accused the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the South African National Civic Organisation (SANCO) of being behind violent protests.

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Presidentialism and its Pitfalls: Towards a theory of how not to understand the Zuma Presidency

18 November 2009

It was an unthinkable for many. That Jacob Zuma would become President of post-Apartheid South Africa. Or rather it was unthinkable for many in the West, and for many of the elites in the postcolonial world. At some point South Africa possessed one of the neatest narratives in the history of national liberation movements. A globally condemned problem- racism, and a globally revered leader- Nelson Mandela. A history of violence that was transcended through forgiveness and reconciliation. That was a much consumed version of the story in most of the world. The untidiness of historical actualities is of course a different matter. And yet it seems that the untidiness of actuality always struggles to find voice when it doesn’t seem to tell the story that is required. Perhaps that is because we grasp the world through genres of understanding. Our historical-political events, like our economic fates, are told through classificatory systems, concept repertoires, metaphors, and idioms that allow us to make the specificity of a moment both commensurate with other specific moments in other places at other times. Specificity is therefore inserted and dissolved into historical Time and space so that we can tell a story who’s dimensions, characters, and plot we are roughly already familiar with. We have good stories, and bad stories. There are the inspirational stories, the tragedies, dramas, and the farces, perhaps too much farce. Political life in liberal democracies, totalitarian states and other forms of centralized authority embodied in a person has a genre of its own, through which we seek to make sense of it all. Yet in making sense of the individual leader, the genre that governs plot, character and narrative in political journalism and much political science literature, has already predetermined what it looks for, even if it can’t always govern the timing of events, as the epics of Greek political tragedy demonstrate.

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Introduction: The Politics of Jacob Zuma

18 November 2009

Jacob Zuma, the President of Africa’s most powerful democracy since April 2009, and the recently chosen ‘African President of the Year’ (Sapa 2009), arouses strong passions from his supporters and detractors. A longtime ANC official from a humble peasant background in what is now Kwazulu-Natal province, Zuma was picked by the ANC to be the country’s deputy president under Thabo Mbeki in 1999. The men, close colleagues during exile (and during the early years of negotiating with the Apartheid government), appeared to only enjoy a friendly rivalry at that point. So when it came to predicting who would lead South Africa when Mbeki departed the national stage, most observers did not think of Zuma as a serious contender. He hardly featured in the daily cut and thrust of national politics.

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Zimbabwe: Healing, Reconciliation and Reconstruction (Symposium)

5 October 2009

The Africa Initiative and Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University are pleased to announce a two-day symposium on October 29 and 30, on the theme of healing, reconciliation and reconstruction in Zimbabwe. This meeting brings together key figures from Africa and the United States to deliberate on the question of Zimbabwe’s future, the role of healing in socio-political reconstruction, and the role of democratic institutions and an informed citizenry in a peace process that goes beyond partisan proclivities.

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Call for Nominations Bud Day Award: Due October 1

26 September 2009

Each year, in memory of Warren Bud Day, ACAS honors activist scholarship on Africa with the Bud Day Award. The call for nominations is now open. ACAS asks its current members to submit names and brief bios to Frank Holmquist (fholmquist@hampshire.edu), the award committee chair. The 2009 award will be presented during the ACAS and African Studies Association meetings scheduled for November 19-22, 2009 in New Orleans.

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