There has been wall to wall commentary on both Trump and Zuma but very little on the similarities between the two (though since starting to look at this I have seen that Eusebius McKaiser has come in for some strident criticisms over related remarks which I did not see). The similarities are quite striking though.
- Both talk in simplistic terms as though they hold a binary, black and white view of the world, Zuma in his halting style, as least when speaking in English, and Trump in puerile language which would be an embarrassment in a primary school debating class.
- Much of what they say is not true but in stimulating counter arguments and debate they drive the agenda. Any disagreement is shrugged off as incorrect, counter revolutionary etc. Repeated incorrect statements lead to acceptance by those who may not be in a good position to judge. Dressing them up as alternative facts belies belief.
- Both are opposed to the courts and the media because they know these are the two most potent forces that are capable of undermining their message. Trump’s opposition to the courts is quite ludicrous when they are merely applying the law as it stands rather than taking into account his personal view of what the country wants. He in effect criticises the media for speaking truth to power. Zuma’s obvious preference is for censorship of the media to avoid the truth coming out and accuses the judiciary of becoming politicised when in fact they are mainly involved in curbing the excesses of the executive.
- Zuma has only contempt for Parliament, and the way members have automatically supported the official line leads this view to be held by others even if for different reasons. The proportional representation system is disastrous for both Parliament and democracy as it makes members only answerable to party leaders if they wish to remain on party lists. In the long term this is as dangerous for the ANC as for democracy. Trump’s approach to dealing with Congress is yet to be fully revealed but his contempt for elites of whichever party indicates the likelihood of a very fractious relationship. The US system’s checks and balances will provide a much better restraint on executive actions than in South Africa and members of Congress will certainly feel much more answerable to their electorate than to Trump. Yet the pork barrel politics and lobbying sometimes seems like SA corruption by another name.
- In both cases choices for the executive reflect the presidents’ self interest whether Zuma’s choice of those who will support him or Trump’s often extreme views. In Zuma’s case in particular ability to do the job appears to have little bearing on choices.
- Both presidents maintain that that their policies are directed to helping the poor and marginalised. Zuma’s policies are such that no section of society will benefit except for a very limited number of cronies. Trump’s may help some sections but one feels that this will only be by chance while he drives his (or Steve Bannon’s) policies.
- Zuma, and likely Trump, have little grasp of the intricacies of policy leading in South Africa to drift and in the US to the possibility that detail will be filled in by some rather extreme appointments.
- Both are said to be driven to some extent by revenge, Trump in respect of those who have shrugged him off as an untalented nobody who happened to inherit some money and Zuma of those ‘clever blacks’, typically those such as Mbeki who were prominent in exile, in contrast to his own lack of formal education and his imprisonment.
- Both seem to have come to power almost by accident or at least for the wrong reasons. Trump reveled in the limelight of being a candidate while seeming to have little appetite for the hard work of being president. Zuma was more interested in accumulating wealth, helping friends and avoiding the legal consequences of his earlier lifestyle.
- In both cases their personal lives leave a lot to be desired.
- Embarrassment, shame and remorse are foreign concepts to both of them.
- Both are good candidates for removal from office, Zuma escaping this by virtue of his dependent ANC members and Trump as he has possibly not been in office long enough, though it is already feeling a long time.
A final thought – while Trump may have been fairly comfortable in the ‘old’ South Africa would he have been allowed entry by the authorities into the Orange Free State if they had stuck to their policy of being orange free?
© J R B Livesey 2017