Zuma should have deflected Kathrada’s snub

In the film, Wag The Dog, less than two weeks before a president’s re-election bid, TV broadcast his involvement in a sex scandal in the White House.

This is seen as potentially crippling to the president’s re-election bid. Spin doctor (played by Robert De Niro) is summoned. His solution is to create a bigger story that would dominate the media until election day.

He then sets out to create a war. Albania is selected as the target. The rest is history.

Pundits suspect the movie was about former US President Bill Clinton. But I digress.

The events of the burial of struggle icon and ANC veteran Ahmed Kathrada on Wednesday reminded me sharply of this 1997 film.

It is now common cause that it was Kathrada’s last wish that President Jacob Zuma should not attend the former’s funeral.

It is also common cause that Uncle Kathy (as he was affectionately known) had 12 months before his death on Tuesday, penned an open letter to Zuma asking him to resign.

So it goes without saying that Kathy was disappointed in the leadership of Zuma and he expressed it in the strongest possible way, in his final will.

We can debate whether or not Kathy went too far. But that is for another blog, by another person.

If you missed it, the president in his message of condolences made it clear that he would indeed not attend Kathy’s funeral as per the latter’s wishes.

Zuma should not have responded to this request of his comrade, at least not verbally.

I can imagine that he was probably angered by that wish. Maybe it saddened him and broke his heart. Maybe he was embarrassed. Maybe all of the above.

And maybe he was giving back as much proverbial middle finger as he got.

Except this gave Kathy even more moral high ground, as his body was about to go underground.

If the president really had to respond, this was a chance to wag to the dog; create a diversion.

Zuma could have created an impromptu trip to one of our neighouring countries to deal with “a sudden crisis”. I am sure someone like José Eduardo dos Santos of Angola would have been happy to play cover for the president.

He could have asked one of his wife to fall “terribly ill” on Tuesday evening, forcing him to rush to Nkandla to be with her and the children.

If push came to shove, the president could have collapsed “from fatigue” and been ordered by his doctors to take immediate rest. Besides we know how much he’s been dealing with, stress would be a plausible excuse.

Responding (on paper) to Kathy’s request came across as throwing a tantrum. It also buried all the doubt that existed whether Kathy’s wish was real or an exaggerated by those that are not of JZ.

When he finally “returned from Angola” or the “wife had recovered” or the doctors had “certified him fit for office again”, Zuma could have then issued a statement of how pained he was to have missed the funeral of someone he holds in the highest esteem – a former fellow inmate at Robben Island and a peer of his hero Madiba.

Not every crisis is a disaster. That mostly depends on how we respond to it.

[Follow me on twitter @ramsbythehorns]