US television dramas can turn anyone into a political scientist

13 September 2017 - 05:11 By Andile Ndlovu
STATUS REPORT  Kerry Washington plays Olivia  Pope  in television series 'Scandal', which was created by Shonda Rhimes. Pope is a Washington  crisis manager who advises her high-powered clients on how to manage their public image  Picture: Disney
STATUS REPORT Kerry Washington plays Olivia Pope in television series 'Scandal', which was created by Shonda Rhimes. Pope is a Washington crisis manager who advises her high-powered clients on how to manage their public image Picture: Disney

Have Shonda Rhimes and Olivia Pope (The Fixer/Scandal) made me cynical of politicians, or is Jackson Mthembu suddenly one of us?

Is he an example of when bad leadership happens to good people? Is he deserving of my (our) empathy?

I refer to the ANC chief whip's interview with 702's Steven Grootes, in which he spoke about toying with retirement.

He talked about how his first marriage ended because of his dedication to the struggle and the demands it placed on his time. He also talked about his son's drug addiction, and wanting to be a better father, because "revolutionaries also take care of their families".

Mthembu told Grootes on Monday morning that "after the conference, after we have put in a collective leadership that will save our movement, I am indeed prepared to consider whether I should not step down and have some time with my family."

Listening to Mthembu, I was struck by how much softer and more placid he sounded compared to when he is in parliament playing the role of ANC chief whip. If he were announcing his candidacy for the highest office, it sure would have made a splash - it appeared to warm many hearts, including mine.

Many of which had been hardened over the years, because of Mthembu's loyalty to the ANC - and by extension- his alliance with President Jacob Zuma.

When I think of Pope, I look back at all the times she helped politicians salvage their public images and manage perceptions of them.

I think of how she would have sat down Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa over the past week and promptly told him how things would go down once the public had read news about his alleged extramarital affairs.

"Dive in. Own it. Mock your image," she would tell him, as she once told President Fitz Grant.

"You start off strong. Something like: 'I see a lot of familiar faces here tonight including one or two who inexplicably haven't been accused of sleeping with me.'

"Laugh at yourself. It'll make it impossible for them to laugh at you."

She probably would have advised Mthembu similarly. She probably would have said: "First thing we need to do is to capture the attention of the national media. It's not your son who's struggling with drug abuse, it's Jackson Mthembu's son. It's not just anyone's marriage which is under strain, it's YOURS. The difference between telling peers and the general public, who, by the way are your real employers, can't be underestimated."

She would dispute former US President Bill Clinton's comments in 2005, when he said: "People really don't care if politicians attack each other with untrue stories; they figure if you don't want to get hurt, you shouldn't have filed for office. They figure whatever happens to us our lives will be better than theirs."

Very few things are beyond Pope. Few people in politics are more cynical, yet even fewer are as optimistic.

In my cynicism I wondered why, if Mthembu felt so strongly about rooting out corruption in the ANC and the government, he hadn't spoken out sooner. Why he believed protecting Zuma from impeachment would save us from dropping "a nuclear bomb" on the country, when everything the country had experienced suggests we're hurtling towards a point of no return?

I wondered why, if his family life meant more than the cut-throat business of politics, he hadn't walked away earlier. Why, after his wife and children were involved in a car crash, he didn't act back then by deciding that he wanted to spend more time with them, and be a better husband and father?

I wondered whether this was all a ploy to affect our perception of him - "we're not all bad within the ANC, you know". After all, he has come out in support of Ramaphosa, vociferously defending him against rumours and touting him as "committed" and ready "to deal with all the challenges we are faced with, including challenges of state capture".

Ramaphosa is also part of the Moral Regeneration Movement - all things wholesome and positive and hopeful and building a better society. Ramaphosa is also seen as a frontrunner in the race for the post-Zuma presidency.

Does Mthembu fancy a look-in at a latter stage, when Ramaphosa considers those who fought for him?

Damn you, Rhimes! Now you've got me questioning the poor man's motives.

ANC Conference 2017