Sunday, March 16, 2008

Is Zuma our OJ Simpson?

Not for the first time, I was reminded today of the parallels between Zuma in South Africa with OJ Simpson in the States.

I read the rather excellent Guardian piece reprinted in the Mail and Guardian.

The psychology behind popular black support for heroes on trial by what is seen as white establishment is obvious. It is the same warped sense of indentity that causes otherwise reasonable whites to support a white Skierlik murderer or a depraved set of white boys making fun of black workers old enough to be their parents in their Reitz hostel video.

The Guardian article says of the original OJ Simpson Los Angeles trial: "The trial became less about the killings and more about a city's terrible relations with its black population. Occurring not long after the Rodney King riots of 1992, Simpson became a symbol for black power in the face of white authority."

It is not difficult to understand the support for Zuma of those with nothing to lose in South Africa on similar grounds. To them, he represents the black masses marginalised by first the whites and then the connected black elite who appear to have got rich with little regard for those who put them in power. Zuma's guilt of rape or corruption is secondary to the symbolism of taking back power by those in the majority.

This is of course alarming to those who somehow avoid the politics of race and condemn equally the crimes of those who commit them. The reality of a justice blind to race and popularity seems endangered - if it ever existed. The inequality of its application under apartheid would suggest not, and that it is rather an aspiration people hoped for in 1994.

The tale of OJ Simpson offers hope to those. The Gaurdian states: "There has been a fundamental shift in racial attitudes to Simpson. Once, 71% of black Americans believed he was innocent. That's fallen to 40%. It is likely to have collapsed further in the wake of his book. 'A lot of black people have changed their minds. Afterwards he did not try to reach out to them. He just moved to Florida and played golf,' says Manny Otiko, a black cartoonist and comedian."

Already it seems Zuma's support has questioned his willow-bend-in-the-wind poltical posturing.

Perhaps we too are moving towards a day where voters will choose between a woman and a black man based on issues rather than a left / right split.

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