What makes a smart political tactician?
Veteran journalist Allister Sparks seems to have sparked a furure by including Hendrik Verwoerd in a list of smart politicians he had known: Sparks fly over Verwoerd comment – Politics | IOL News:
In the course of (this), I’ve encountered some really smart politicians – Harry Lawrence… Margaret Ballinger, Helen Suzman, Zach de Beer, Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, Marais Steyn, Japie Basson, and, yes, Hendrik Verwoerd. But, after all those years, I have to say, objectively viewed (and) setting aside my personal friendship, I rate Helen Zille as the smartest political tactician of all.
I won’t speculate on what Allister Sparks may or may not have meant by saying that.
I would say that Hendrik Verwoerd was not merely a smart political tactician, but an intelligent man as well. Mad, yes. Evil, yes. But smart too.
I am reminded of an old joke.
A man was driving past a lunatic asylum and his car had a puncture. He got out to change the wheel, and being sensible, he carefully put the wheel nuts in the upturned hub cap so he wouldn’t lose them.
Then a car came roaring past and ran over the hubcap, scattering the nuts in all directions. Not only did he have a squashed hub cap, but all the nuts were lost in the long grass on the other side of the road. He sat down in despair, not knowing what to do.
One of the inmates of the asylum was watching this from over the wall, and ventured a suggestion:
“Why don’t you take one nut from each of the other three wheels, and use it to hold on the fourth wheel? At least you’ll get to a garage.”
The motorist jumped up, and enthusiastically followed this advice.
“What’s a smart fellow like you doing in a lunatic asylum?” he asked the inmate.
“I may be mad, but I’m not stupid,” came the reply.
But I would say Jacob Zuma is just smart a political tactician as Verwoerd.
Consider his career, which lay in tatters after Thabo Mbeki sacked him as deputy president. At that time lots of people (including me) thought that Thabo Mbeki was a smarter political tactician than Jacob Zuma. But Zuma turned the tables and got the better of Mbeki. He outmanoeuvred Mbeki, and got Mbeki fired as president.
I have no doubt that Thabo Mbeki is a more intelligent man than Jacob Zuma, and I’m pretty sure that he is a more intelligent man than Verwoerd. But a smart political tactician he was not.
When Thabo Mbeki was our president I used to think how fortunate we were. Yes, I think he made mistakes, and had some bad policies (his Aids and Zimbabwe policies spring to mind), but when one looked at the leaders of other countries at the time — George Bush, Tony Blair, Bob Mugabe and others — Thabo Mbeki was streets ahead when it came to vision, and applying his intellect to trying to solve national problems.
And Bob Mugabe is probably the smartest political tactician of all. He may have bankrupted his country, but he outmanoeuvred all his political rivals, and that is the essential mark of a smart political tactician.
As for Helen Zille, she’s a bit disingenuous.
One of the reports about this “smart politician” story quotes her as saying Verwoerd comment overshadows Zille’s last dance | News24: “We grew from 338 000 votes in 1994 to over four million last year. In the process the DA has become the most non-racial party that the country ever had.”
Who is the “we” who got 380 000 votes in 1994?
Not the DA, because the DA did not exist in 1994.
A smart political tactician doesn’t have to be a good person or have good policies, and doesn’t even have to be intelligent. All that is necessary is to have the low cunning to outmanoeuvre their political rivals.