South Africans try to see funny side of Zuma crisis

Zuma is a politician whose career has run the full gamut of scandal


Reuters April 07, 2016
Zuma is a politician whose career has run the full gamut of scandal. PHOTO: REUTERS

JOHANNESBURG: With their economy flatlining, currency on the ropes and politics in turmoil, many South Africans are turning to humor for relief, mainly at the expense of President Jacob Zuma and his $16-million home improvements.

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Within minutes of Zuma surviving Tuesday's heated impeachment vote in parliament thanks to unanimous support from African National Congress (ANC) loyalists, the 73-year-old traditionalist Zulu was facing another roasting on the nation's irreverent stand-up circuit.

"Jacob Zuma is the dude who just threw up all over the dance floor but still doesn't want to go home," comedian Lazola Gola quipped, to roars of laughter at an open mike event at Kitchener's Bar, a 100-year-old watering hole built in the heyday of Johannesburg's gold rush.

For comedians, Zuma is the gift that keeps on giving, a politician whose career has run the full gamut of scandal, from a love-child and corruption charges to foot-in-mouth insults of African countries and his belief, expressed during a 2006 rape trial, that having a shower can prevent transmission of HIV/AIDS.

However, no episode has surpassed the six-year imbroglio over the "security upgrades" to his sprawling Nkandla private residence that included an amphitheatre, swimming pool, cattle enclosure and chicken run.

Even though South Africa's top court said last week he had broken the constitution by disobeying a watchdog's order to pay back some money, Zuma has plowed on, blaming his lawyers for giving bum advice and apologizing for creating "confusion".

While much of South Africa's humor inevitably plays on the racial divides that remain two decades after apartheid - particularly between blacks and whites - the ruling ANC party and its leaders, past and present, are also frequent targets.

Nor are there any sacred cows.

South African host of the Daily Show, Trevor Noah, explained to U.S. audiences this week how Zuma was elected in 2009 without ever being formally cleared by a court of hundreds of corruption charges.

"I know, I know, that should have been a red flag to South Africans but ever since apartheid we've strived to be color blind, so all we saw was a flag," Noah said.

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Others have taken the view that the politics of the self-styled 'Rainbow Nation' have become so bizarre that satire is unable to compete with the real thing.

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