Blade Nzimande, the General Secretary of the South African Communist Party, speaks about ANC President Jacob Zuma at the launch of the Jeremy Gordin biography, Zuma at Exclusive Books, Hyde Park (Wednesday, 10th December 2008).
BN: Well, I think that the book is an important contribution in terms of trying to understand, or lay a foundation to understand, Jacob Zuma much more holistically. Because our problem is that Jacob Zuma has always been approached from the standpoint of the things that have been happening in the past six/seven years and even with that in a very perverted and biased way. And the book is a contribution towards understanding the enormous contribution that he has made to the liberation of this country and the reconstruction.
DA: So you suggested in your speech that there are a lot of problems with the way that Mr. Zuma has been represented in the media. Could you elaborate on some of those?
BN: Yes, we think that most journalists, especially [the] overwhelming majority of editors, have really been so negative and biased you know against Zuma - some of it bordering on personal hatred actually – in a manner that I think has closed them off from trying to understand the individual and the context within which he is operating.
DA: I’ve heard you say that before, that they are driven by hatred. What do you think… where does that come from? What cultivates that hatred?
BN: I think it’s a fear of Mr. Zuma. You know, for many of the middle classes, sections of the middle classes. He is a humble man, born in rural areas, never had formal education, taught himself and taught by the struggle, very much respected by millions of workers and the poor of this country, I think that it makes some people uncomfortable unfortunately. Which shouldn’t be the case and as I was trying to say, Jacob Zuma as a person is a very nice man and as a person politically who is very open-minded to engaging and even listening to views that are contrary to his own without taking, you know, umbrage at that.
DA: Everybody knows that Mr. Zuma is a very nice man, he’s very personable, quick to laugh, but, I mean, are those the qualities we look for in leadership or do we [look for something more]?
BN: No, he’s more than that, he’s more than that. For me, as I said, he is an organic intellectual - an intellectual born out of the struggle - and he’s a leader, he’s a unifier. And I think that’s what South Africa needs now more than anything else, you know. We need someone who will bring hope to millions of our poor people, someone also who is a unifier, someone who listens. We think that the period we’re in in South Africa now requires a Jacob Zuma.
DA: When did you personally first meet with Mr. Zuma?
BN: In 1990, in Kwa-Zulu Natal.
DA: And what was the context of that meeting?
BN: The context was that I was serving in the regional executive committee of what was then the Natal Midlands. And Comrade Zuma was a national leader, of course already of the ANC and we had to meet in Kwa-Zulu Natal particularly around the issue of how to deal with the violence of that time. It was in that context that I met him.
DA: So in those eighteen or so years how has your relationship with him evolved?
BN: Well, it’s been a principled relationship, that’s how I would describe it, you know. We’ve had our differences, as I’ve said.
DA: Such as?
BN: Like around how to deal with the violence. Some of us in the early nineties felt that maybe he was emphasizing too much the question of talks with the IFP at the expense of arming our people to defend themselves, you know. But [we] later on realized that Comrade Zuma did not choose the one over the other but it was about the issue of what was the appropriate balance. Yes we had to defend our communities under enormous violence, but also it was important to try and engage and talk.
DA: You’re the General Secretary of the South African Communist Party…
BN: That’s the last one; ja.
DA: I would like to just talk about the state of communism in South Africa, the communist movement specifically…
BN: The South African Communist Party is very popular. Because we have been very principled and consistent in that we cannot be able to deepen our democracy unless we address the interests of the workers and the poor in this country. And we have waged many campaigns that are taking up issues that are affecting ordinary people: access to land; the question of being blacklisted by the credit bureaus; access to finance; the right to everyone to have a bank account; the right to health, the right to education; all those issues as the South African Communist Party we have taken up together with the people. And of course in the process educating our people that capitalism is no solution to the problems facing humanity. The crisis that we are facing now for us is not just a once-off thing, it is a deeper reflection of how capitalism is unable to deal with the problems facing our people.
DA: More communists in the cabinet, in Mr. Zuma’s cabinet?
BN: No, we don’t know, that’s up to Mr. Zuma when he appoints his own cabinet.
DA: Okay, thank you Mr. Nzimande bye-bye.
Photos by Mark Oppenheimer