The triumph of the technocrats: Boredom as a political strategy

The real critique of last night’s SONA is not that it was boring, it is that the speech was boring on purpose because it sought to depoliticise meaningful things and subsume them under the rubric of “fast-tracked implementation” “stakeholder engagement,” and “delivery mechanisms.” In other words, Zuma deliberately deployed technical language that alienates people to seem both sophisticated and ‘rational’ and to blunt the edges of increasingly politicised demands from the public.

I have learned to approach President Zuma’s speeches with low expectations. It’s a sort of defence mechanism: if I steel myself for the blunders and the boredom, then he might surprise me as he did during the February SONA where he had a good story to tell in a pretty snazzy manner.

To be sure, if the president used his speeches to lay out important national objectives, then his tone and approach, the timbre of his voice and the pace of his speeches, would matter far less. But I have come to believe that the president – and his Cabinet – are not interested in punchy speeches that address strikes and pocketbooks and the state of race relations. The abysmal speech yesterday is simply the latest in a series of deeply (albeit blandly) flawed political statements by this president and his cabinet about the nature and scope of our nation’s problems.

Last night the nation watched as the president swathed himself in a blanket of statistics about “work opportunities” and “fast-tracking implementation”. He fed us numbers devoid of…

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