BETWEEN Jacob Zuma and the African National Congress (ANC) we are presented with some really cool metaphysical puzzles.
The best way to make pretentious concepts such as “metaphysics” come alive is to use real-world examples. I tried this the other day while waiting in vain for Julius Malema to reappear on the news circuit. Well, it turns out Zuma and the ANC do not just provide useful material for the comedy circuit; it struck me that they also provide pretty useful material for teaching purposes.
Some black humour might add a little bit of ayoba flavour to a discipline that must be traditionally white if it is called metaphysics. After all, there is no Pedi word for metaphysics, so it must be a subject with a white tendency.
Metaphysics is that branch of philosophy that tries to make sense of the fundamental nature of reality, including such migraine- inducing questions as whether there is a reality beyond what we can sense and, if so, what the nature of this reality might be. Deep stuff indeed. Not to be trotted out at an ANC branch meeting. Though, mind you, it might well be confused for struggle-speak, so perhaps becoming a metaphysician is an as yet unexplored first step towards tenderpreneurship. A metaphysician may well manage to come across like a comrade whose pocket size does not determine his social consciousness. Who knows? But I digress.
Enters Bra Jacob. One of our senses, the auditory one, tells us the man can speak. We can trust our senses, despite Descartes’ silly protestations that we should not. We hear the president speak all the time . But, here’s the big problem nevertheless, does the man actually have any thoughts? Now there is a tricky metaphysical puzzle.
I genuinely don’t know whether Zuma has any thoughts. A new close friend of mine, who is an excellent researcher and public commentator, ventured a confident “No, Zuma has no thoughts!” over a highbrow dinner the other night. But maybe she was just being tjatjarag or acting like a coconut intellectual. And she is from Cape Town which, as cities go, really is a bloody agent.
You see, we usually assume that words strung together coherently and uttered through a man’s lips must be evidence of mental activity, even if we cannot observe thoughts. But usually you and I say things that at least hint at our private convictions that we can think. Zuma does not even hint at believing he has thoughts.
Malema, for example, certainly thinks he has thoughts, as in when he might say: “I, Kiddie Amin, am in the possession of the revolutionary thought that all mines should be nationalised.” Or, as Matthews Phosa, ANC treasurer-general might say: “I think the thought that this Hitachi deal with Chancellor House should be ended, comrades, lest other dodgy deals get exposed soon too!”
Obviously claiming you have thoughts does not guarantee you have them. For all we know, Malema may not be in possession of a naughty thought at all but may merely be in possession of an empty vessel. In fact, that might even be likely since it would perfectly explain the noise we are subjected to.
Still, there is something to be said for a man or woman at least asserting that they have self-knowledge about the inside of their heads. And I would have thought that any political leader worth his salt had better be sure he possesses thoughts about things such as mining, nationalisation and party funding. For all his silliness, Malema puts stuff on the debate table for us to shred to logical pieces. Bra Jacob, on the other hand, gives us nothing because he has nothing to give. He has no thoughts, by his own admission.
That much was made clear the other day, for example, in an interview carried by City Press. Asked for his view on the whole Chancellor House embarrassment, he chuckled and said: “You want me to enter the fray?” It was meant as a rhetorical response, Bra Jacob’s way of telling the interviewers not to embarrass themselves by asking questions that assume that he, Zuma, the president of the most powerful country in Africa, possesses thoughts. Zuma helped them out by suggesting that some other person, called the “ANC”, has a view on the matter, to which he defers.
Now that brings me to the second puzzle. Who and what the hell is the ANC? I’m seriously confused. These comrades talk about the ANC like it is some human being with a body and mind of its own. It exists. Everywhere. And has thoughts. Not unlike an omnipresent Higher Power. Which explains why all ANC cadres fear the ANC. The ANC must be a scary, elusive, dictatorial father figure. I wonder if he or she has ever revealed themselves to anyone?
Whether the ANC exists and what its true nature is remains a metaphysical migraine my small analyst mind can’t solve. The same goes for determining the nature of what lurks (or not) in Zuma’s head. It’s much easier to learn to blow a vuvuzela.