We might inadvertently be building a monster in Masisi

09 Sep 2019

One of the greatest attributes about the late South African president and struggle icon, Nelson Mandela has been his ability to forgive.

Mandela believed in the infinite goodness of humanity and went at great lengths to honour that part of mankind.

After staying in jail for almost a generation he walked out preaching peace and reconciliation for his race-war ravaged country.

He reached out to those that had incarcerated him and invited them to join him in rebuilding and healing South Africa.

The whole world was stunned by his magnanimity and absence of anger. Was it for real? Everybody seemed to ask themselves.

While his followers were angling for retribution, Mandela cooled them down by offering himself as a living example forgiveness.

There is no doubt that Mokgweetsi Masisi has been bullied, both as vice president and now as president.

Very few people holding public office have been more undermined by subordinates.

Alone in his solitary space, he must often be feeling abused, unwanted and humiliated.

In an interview he said he survived all manner of attempts to get him removed.

This is a wailing cry of a president who genuinely feels persecuted.

Masisi, we must be under no illusion, is not another Mandela. He is certainly not a Mahatma Gandhi. And more importantly far from being a saint.  He is a human being, with all the human frailties.

The good thing though is that at least for now he is trying to do his best under very testing circumstances.

The treatment he has had to endure, almost quietly might one day invoke the worst in him.

There is no single trigger-event. It is an accumulation of events all calculated to hurt and ultimately remove him that will shape the kind of president he will become.

And so far those events do not make for a good reading.

The man has been crudely and hideously mis-treated by people who ordinarily should have supported him.

He has been undermined and publicly dis-respected.

As a vice president, scores of cabinet subordinates once lined up and took turns to lampoon and malign him, in his presence prepared; coached and goaded on by a president who acted more like a hegemon than a peace-maker.

There can be only one answer; Khama has since the beginning been the one shouting down orders and injunctions to ministers to disobey Masisi.

This is unprecedented.

Khama, no doubt has from day one been the supreme exponent of divisive politics, which is hugely ironic and even paradoxical given that he was brought into politics under the false banner of unity and inclusivity.

Masisi ascendance to the presidency have been characterized by bitter episodes of acrimony and back-stabbing that culminated according to his intelligence chief, with attempts on his life.

It is difficult as to be impossible in the end for him to behave like a normal president.

He has inherited a party that has come within a hair’s breadth of in-electability.

It has been left to him to resuscitate that party from the ruins – made all the harder by the irrepressible ghost of his immediate past predecessor. 

Just as defiance and rebellion characterised his way to the top, so too have the same stayed with him at the top.

Only two weeks back his senior cabinet ministers voted with opposition to stop a water contract that had his backing. He had told them to vote with their conscience.

That would have been unimaginable under Ian Khama.

Mistreating a powerful person and hoping that they will behave normally is a fanciful proposition.

Masisi might be a democrat in heart and mind. But that does not preclude him from obnoxious and dictatorial tendencies.

All human beings can be that bad. The potential is always there. All it needs is to be triggered.

The risk on us for all the bad treatment Masisi has received is that those actions might just unleash upon us a lethal inner being that we had never thought existed inside the man.

Human beings react differently to different situations.

As a subtle or even unconscious self-defence he might be driven to a harsh or even lethal reaction against not only those who attack him but the rest of us.

We might be inadvertently building a monster – yet again, but using totally different sets of tools.

As it is the genie is out of the bottle.

We are truly set on a journey the result of which we might never be able to reverse.

So far Masisi’s tone to his adversaries has been non-committal except to warn them not to mistake his silence for weakness.

This is likely to set the tone for his presidency post October General Elections.

He is unlikely to fully recover from the emotional abuse he has had to undergo.

The scars will forever be with him.

Even in this subdued political atmosphere where enforced composure and pretense is the best policy, glimpses of Masisi’s overall temper have been very easy to decipher and discern.

Full disguise has not been possible.

Caution is for now able to provide cover. It is only a default condition – at least until he crosses an elections bridge.

Even as he’s cautious it is easy to see that he is without doubt temperamental, with a marked impatience for people with low intellect.

Victory at the polls will no doubt bring confidence and with that energy and exuberance.

A more swashbuckling president will emerge.

We are likely to see a naked version of that play out after elections.

Score settling is never off the table.

That would include bringing to the fore his worst inner instincts that hitherto have been tucked far away from the public.

Of course, precipitating it all would be the fact that Khama now has expended all his capital through his all-out war against Masisi.

Khama will with time find out that he has no leverage with which to redeem himself.

Unintentionally we might just have created a monster that we might never be able to control.

Whatever the case, we are wholly to blame.