Apr 26 2009

Zuma and the heart of darkness

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 4:15 PM

The victory by the African National Congress at South Africa’s polls this week has renewed controversies about the ANC’s leader, Jacob Zuma. In an article I wrote marking Zuma’s victory that appeared Friday in the London Guardian, many readers seemed confused between the term “populist” and “popular.” Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first president, was popular but not populist. As a political tendency, “populism” seeks to challenge the wealthy, redress gaps between rich and poor, and improve the self-esteem and pride of the have-nots. Populists also tend to attack elites for looking down at the ordinary ban, and for using their superior education to make policies more complicated than they ought to be. Zuma is clearly populist in the traditional sense. The trouble with populism, historically, has been the abuse of the movement by its leaders. In practice,, populism can quickly slide into dictatorship. In America, Huey Long, of Louisiana, used the slogan “every man a king” to rouse his supporters. In the Pan African movement, Marcus Garvey, elevated ordinary black people to the center of his political movement. Populists can even be unpopular, which may in the end be what happens to Zuma. Rather than acquire too much power, he may end up with too little — because of his own limitations.

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