When I first saw this picture of the AU Commission chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma sitting next to her former husband and current South African President Jacob Zuma and his Deputy Cyril Ramaphosa at an event commemorating women’s day, I immediately assumed, like you, that they were sleeping. The image brought to mind a sometime popular song by South African Kawaito singer Kabelo – “It’s my house” in which the artist raps about overcoming obstacles and negative public opinion. But the lyrics which were more relevant to the scene above are found in the chorus of the song in which the singer says “As long ngisaphefumula ngohlala ngivutha, esami les’khundla, balele, balele bengisabavusa, It’s my house, kuKwamila ungadlaleli la” – Which in English means; As as long as I am still breathing I’ll stay hot/burning, the position is mine/ they’re sleeping, they’re sleeping/I’m waking them up, it’s my house, don’t play here.” With this in mind I could only conclude:
Dlamini-Zuma for President!
Simply because she was the only one who was, according to the picture, awake. I thought this despite the photographer Neo Ntsoma’s caption “In God we trust Amen” which gave a context, however poetic, to what was actually happening in the moment the picture was taken. I chose to ignore the fact that though the pair looked like they were deep in REM sleep, they had in fact just closed their eyes in prayer. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a woman who has always displayed an above average level of political poise, used that opportunity when the nation and her former husbands’ eyes were closed in prayer to look at him, in a way that only a woman-scorned can understand. A poignant moment: evoking a keen sense of sadness and regret.
Not just for her, but for the entire nation.
This picture which was preceded by one in which three women stood in front of the President while he delivered his closing remarks following the recent Local Government Elections, holding placards asking him and the nation to remember his rape accuser who now lives in exile served to confirm once again, that the President along with his political party do not care about women in this country. It framed the Zeitgeist of South Africa. This picture of the president and his deputy sleeping while the AU commissioner looked on, was widely shared across all social media platforms bringing to life the words Nobel prize winner for literature John Steinbeck when he said “ If a story is not about the hearer, he will not listen.” But Steinbeck whose work explored themes around justice and fate especially as it applied to the downtrodden or everyman protagonists did not end there he added in the same quote “And here I make a rule, a great and interesting story is about everyone or it will never last”
After-all, the personal is political.
I have often wondered what the former South African minister of Health, Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, and the 15th member of the African National Congress National Executive Committee (ANC-NEC), current chair of the African Union Commission, thought about her former husband and comrades public statements which he has uttered since his rape trial in 2006 to date. Because despite all of it, despite everything, she is still, as we see in the picture right there beside him. Perhaps not as his wife but as a comrade and political ally. What must have been going through her mind? The picture lends itself to a thousand interpretations, given the negative press surrounding both Nkosazana Dlamin- Zuma in her capacity as the leader of the African Union and President Zuma as the often embarrassing leader of both party and government. She never said a word.
On this day Dlamini-Zuma articulated perhaps for the first time, something everyone already knew. South Africas’ reputation in the continent and beyond had suffered because of weak leadership. Some praised her for accurately reading the writing on the wall while she too stands accused of the same failure by a number of disgruntled AU observers. It would seem that she and President Zuma are two sides of the same coin. But is that a fair observation? Perhaps she and the current US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton share a lot more in common as partners to powerful men. They both made concessions and compromises both personal and political based on a promise of greater power and world domination. Both share similar views on the political economy as illustrated in their choice of colours in their dress this week, black and gold, the colour scheme for Anarcho-Capitalism (anti-government capitalists – privatize everything). Or maybe that was just a simple coincidence.
The Politics of Perception
Regardless, as women we can only empathize. We have watched both women face public humiliation and ridicule as their husbands paraded their weaknesses for all to see. They both remained silent. Their eyes were fixed then as they are now, on the grand prize – to be the first female presidents of their respective countries. A silence which demonstrates one thing; you don’t rise to that level of power and influence in politics by speaking truth to power. You rise by remaining silent. By bidding your time, by being complicit, by rolling with the punches of indiscretion, the lies and the many betrayals. You stay. You rise by saying yes to everything you’re against. By listening to your man and turning your back on you, a woman, you rationalize that pain is for the moment, but glory is forever, you rise by sacrificing pieces of yourself every day, with a single goal in mind; that a time will come when it’ll be your turn to say “check mate.”And when that day comes you might find, like the current South Africa Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega, that you have been played. Perhaps it is the ultimate display of uncoditional love, after all she too is not perfect.
Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words, but a few can change its story.