Afrobarometer Bulletin [Briefing Paper No.104]


by Paul Graham and Carmen Alpin


In May 2012, a display of art entitled “Hail to the Thief II” caused a national controversy because of a single element hung on a separate wall. This was a pastiche of a well-known image of Lenin with the face of the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma. The piece was entitled “Spear of the Nation”.

The controversy centred on issues of respect and dignity versus those of freedom of artistic expression. An unresolved court case was withdrawn after the image was serially defaced by two individuals, a public march on the gallery and a subsequent press conference between the African National Congress and the gallery owner.

So the courts did not get an opportunity to provide guidance on the balancing of the various rights at play. But it was noteworthy that most of the protagonists who originally supported the rights of the artist to free expression subsequently backed away from this stance, taking account of the anger of those who rejected the display of genitalia and the disrespect for the President, his office and his person. The entire incident left wounds and revealed fault lines in South African society that have yet to be fully explored or resolved.

But “Hail to the Thief” expressed a view of the President and of the party he represents that is frequently referenced in public debate and the urban media. In particular, the President has been criticized for his performance, his absence from public debate, his disingenuousness on constitutional matters, his assumed corruption, and his personal lifestyle choices. He has been called a dictator by individuals both inside and outside his own party.

The membership of the ANC is presently embroiled in nomination battles for its top leadership which suggest that a substantial number would prefer President Zuma not to be re-elected for a further five year term at the head of the party.

Yet in an Afrobarometer survey conducted in South Africa in October and November 2011, he garnered a 66% percent approval rating, and 63% of South Africans say they trust him somewhat or a lot.

Are there ways to understand this apparent gap between the image of the President in the media and apparently amongst political, business and civic elites, and that revealed by public opinion by looking at the Afrobarometer results alone? This briefing considers a number of factors that might explain why one person might rate President Zuma highly, while another tweets approvingly of his depiction as the “Spear of the Nation”.

The Survey

During Round 5, Afrobarometer surveys will be conducted in up to 35 countries in Africa, using a common survey instrument and methodology. The findings reported here draw from the most recent survey in South Africa conducted between October and November 2011. This is the sixth Afrobarometer survey conducted in South Africa (others were conducted in 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008). The survey was based on a nationally representative random sample of 2399 adult South Africans drawn from all nine provinces of the country. The findings reported here have a margin of sampling error of +/- 2 percent at a 95 percent confidence level. Fieldwork was conducted by Citizens Surveys Ltd., with technical support from Idasa.


Context of the Fieldwork

At the time of fieldwork President Zuma had been in office for 30 months. While the Afrobarometer is confident that its design enables respondents to voice deep-seated attitudes that are relevant irrespective of the timing of the survey, there will nevertheless be an extent to which the affairs of the day have an impact on the results. During the Afrobarometer fieldwork, we note that the media coverage of President Zuma included a number of positive aspects particular to this period. The ANC disciplinary committee concluded its hearings on Mr Julius Malema, head of the ANC Youth League, vociferous critic of Mr. Zuma, and promoter of an economic freedom agenda including nationalisation. He was suspended by the party on 10 November 2011.

In addition, on 16 September President Zuma announced a judicial commission into a long standing South African corruption controversy, an arms procurement package from 1999 in which he himself was allegedly implicated. He announced the name of the judicial officer who would chair the commission on 24 October.

On that same day he announced the suspension of the National Commissioner of Police in order to investigate allegations of misconduct regarding the award of rental agreements for police headquarters. He simultaneously re-shuffled his cabinet, ejecting the Minister of Public Works, who was also implicated in the rental agreement controversies, and the Minister of Cooperative Government and Traditional Authorities, also found by the Public Protector to have abused his office.

These decisive moves by the President were generally welcomed by the public, and may have had some impact on the survey findings reported below.

Attitudes towards the President

Afrobarometer contains four questions specifically related to the President. These measure: trust in the President, perceptions of corruption in the Office of the President (OP), approval ratings for the way the President has performed his job over the previous year, and evaluations of how often the President ignores the courts and laws of the country.

Please read full version SAF_R5 Brief Zuma Sept12 ( .pdf Acrobat Reader)

Leave a Reply