The Most Disrespected President
By Ayeza wa’ Kagyenyi, South Africa:
In a home, the father is greatly respected within the African culture. In the African home, the father is to be respected.
In Africa, Baba or Tata mean father in many of the African languages in southern and eastern Africa respectively. These terms come with a connotation of respect attached to a highly valued social role and age. Of course this has more to do with historic behaviour and social conditioning, more than biological determination in itself. But let's agree that our fathers mean a lot to us, and that other people's fathers too are to be respected. If you were brought up in an African home, you may have been taught to call the neighbour's father “uncle” and his wife was “aunt”; this applied to elderly people too. As long as these people were older than you, a certain automatic respect was accorded – because that is how we were raised.
But things have changed, or at least from where I stand, it appears that so much has changed.
President Robert Mugabe has had his crazy share of disrespect, being made fun of at home and abroad. In fact, the disrespect at home has been mostly propagated by the disrespect coming from abroad. Thankfully, Bob has always been able to stand up for himself, daring the non-African in ways that other leaders seem afraid to attempt. Having said that, I have recently concluded that perhaps what I thought was disrespect is not even disrespect. This man is king compared to President Jacob Zuma.
In postcolonial Africa, “father of the nation” is a title used by many leaders to refer to their role in the independence movement. It also is used conveniently to prove legitimacy and as a paternalist symbol suggesting continued popularity. This can be found in countries, in organisations, even churches have a version of it where the pastor is referred to as the “father in the house” – still beats me – but it obviously settles well with many.
There was a time when Robert Mugabe was seen as the father of the Zimbabwean nation – and he still might be. In fact, I admire him for being the kind of person that has smart come backs for the white gods. He has a way of reminding them that they are NOT God after all.
I suspect that the now deceased Muammar Gadaffi was also seen as a father of the nation of Libya. But we all know how that ended. Some white non-gods outside the continent did what they thought “best” for Libya and have now left it in what seems like irreversible chaos.
In South Africa, Madiba was the father of the nation; he was even adopted by the rest of Africa as a father to the continent. Nelson Mandela was a president admired by many across the continent and revered abroad. President Mbeki too came on to the scene and was semi-loved and then Zuma took him down. Africa loved Mbeki – even when South Africa shunned him, Africa would have chosen him over Zuma, any day.
President Zuma entered office with scandal leading the way, and even more scandal hotly on his heels; and if this was not enough to worry the masses, his administration has proven to be heavily drenched in scandal. To be clear, corruption is not a scandal in Africa. But no matter how scandalous a person's past is or their present and imagined future, surely they remain a person, right?
Growing up, I had heard that white children show their parents the middle finger – especially in America – and somehow get away with it. I couldn't even think badly of my mother. She had a special stick – oruga – it was unbreakable, un-bendable, and once applied, it left a mark for weeks. It seems to me, however, that Africans have adopted the imperialists' ways. We talk back, we back-chat our parents and elders, we disrespect them, we gang up against them…we uncover their nakedness and then call it politics, human rights and freedom of speech!
From shower heads atop his head to his middle finger pushing up his glasses, to hits about his formal education level – Zuma has endured great mockery. Recently, an artist painted a picture of a woman being raped from the back by a hyena-masked white man, while Zuma's penis is raping her in the mouth. Zuma has children who probably look up to him, value his fatherhood and leadership both at home and in the country, and who respect him immensely. This is the current father of the nation yet his own people despise him to dreadful levels.
Surely, you must see how you have taken on foreign ways, don't you? In Africa we do not uncover our parents' nakedness. That is a very foreign and colonial concept – where the dehumanising of another is done by one who thinks he is superior. How is such a painting allowed to make it to the public domain in the name of art? Is this who we are? Is this us, Africa? We let the foreigner tell us that we are to be enlightened; is enlightenment include uncovering the nakedness of the people who gave birth to us?
Shall we continue to lose our way because “the world is changing”? We must get our act together Africa; and as for South Africa, surely Madiba wouldn't approve of such behaviour. You may ask, “how are you to know what he would approve of or not?” Well, I don't. But I know that there is a better way to communicate dissatisfaction than shaming an entire family based on one member's closet.