SMEAR campaigns are unfortunately part and parcel of most political landscapes in most countries which contest democratic elections.
Running dirty tricks campaigns have become intrinsic to a candidate’s campaign, whether at their own hands, or their backers or by a partisan media. In a world where the discernment between fake news and facts is becoming trickier to traverse, this is more so in a mass media consumption culture which engages media at a rapid pace (in sound bites) the damage a headline or tweet can do is real.
Perception, and not reality or even common sense, holds sway and entrenches popular narratives even if they are devoid of the truth.
Their design is to mislead and scupper. In South Africa, we are all too familiar with, for example, race-baiting in not just politics but in our everyday lives. So it is unsurprising that ANC presidential candidate (and by extension candidate for president of the Republic of South Africa) Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has suddenly, of late, become a reminder to us, in every news dispatch, that she is “Zuma” in her political consciousness, in her values, in her ideology regarding her race to become the ANC president in two weeks time.
The ex-tag regarding her former marital status is a dismissive, disrespectful attack perpetrated by individuals who have no regard for women and, more importantly, no regard or respect for her as a competent politician with an impeccable track record.
On the one issue most commentators have questioned her ability and position on is that of corruption in the state and society in general. She has been unambiguous on this matter, but her remarks have fallen on deaf ears. Not because of her, but because of the attached stigma of some media houses.
Let remind ourselves of her remarks over the past several months on corruption. First, “it takes away resources from people who need it”. Second, “corruption erodes trust between government and citizens and must be dealt with.
All types of corruption, even the one rife in the private sector.” Further, she said: “People can accuse me of many things, but not corruption. I’m not corrupt and I don’t loot.” On the second matter she continues to highlight in her speeches across the length and breadth of SA the need to focus on youth and their aspirations as the next generation of SA’s leaders. Again she is clear and precise. “Young people must have the biggest stake in the future.”
On funding youth entrepreneurship and access to finance for young people being a big problem, she says financial institutions need to understand society. “Not everyone has collateral.” Let’s remind ourselves of the service she has rendered to her country after 1994. In Nelson Mandela’s Cabinet she was South Africa’s minister of health.
Dlamini Zuma introduced the Tobacco Products Amendment Bill in 1999, which made it illegal to smoke in public buildings. Today we frown upon people who smoke in public places and rightfully so. She was later to serve as minister of foreign Affairs (from 1999 to 2009), under both former president Thabo Mbeki and interim president Kgalema Motlanthe. She then served as minister of Home Affairs from May 10, 2009, until October 2, 2012, in President Zuma’s Cabinet.
Home Affairs was in an abject state and Dlamini Zuma won many plaudits for turning around a woeful and mismanaged department. Under her watch, it achieved its first clean audit in more than 15 years. In July 2012, Dlamini Zuma became the first woman to be elected by the AU as its chairperson.
She was also the first southern African leader to hold the position. She stepped down earlier this year as AU chair. Her contribution toward the freedoms we enjoy today should not be shrugged off. But yet the attacks and the personal attacks in the media continue unabated.
She has been named and shamed in the media for being aloof and a difficult customer when it comes to dealing with journalists, reportedly insisting on being called Dr Dlamini Zuma. Identity is crucial to any candidate’s campaign and to attack her for insisting on what she prefers to be called is churlish at best and, at worst, childish.
So what if she is disliked by the media? Will this prohibit her from being an adequate president able to take our country forward? Patriarchy, coupled with an intense desire to see her not succeed, will continue to beat the drum that she is a proxy for Zuma, irrespective of her own abilities and her astuteness as a politician and a nation builder.
Coupled with her forthrightness on economic transformation for black people, land for black people, access for black people, these responses sit uneasy with many white South Africans. And while it is accepted there are many Dlamini Zumas in the making, there is still a huge chasm in how women’s role in shaping our history and how women are shaping a future South Africa is documented and told as opposed to how history favours the male bias.
If she does ascend to the Presidency, let us hope that she is seen as her own person and not someone’s former this or ex that. She has earned her right to sit at the top table, out of her own volition and not because a man said she could.
Jessie Duarte is deputy secretary-general of the ANC.