Would you vote for a man who answers to the following description?
He’s a charming, manipulative president who steals from the poor to give to himself and his cronies. A devious, cheating, cunning despot who takes every possible advantage of the naive, trusting, democratic side of savage capitalism.
He rules by fear.
He surrounds himself with sycophantic cronies who exist only to serve him and are nothing without his protection. These coarse and fawning courtiers live for his smiles, dread his frowns, and — in exchange for their honour, their dignity and their very souls — live spectacularly comfortably off the leftovers from his ample table.
The whole world believes he’s a corrupt, incompetent disgrace to his high office.
Would you vote for such a man?
He could be Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, 79, president of Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), former public relations flack for a Swiss watch company, married three times, one current wife, one daughter. (Holds South African awards Order of Good Hope, Order of the Companions of O. R. Tambo.)
Or he could be Jacob “Nkandla” Zuma, 73, president of the Republic of South Africa, president of the African National Congress (ANC). Married six times, four current wives, twenty children. (Holds South African awards King Makhado Bravery Award, the Nelson Mandela Award for Outstanding Leadership.)
Actually, of course, the description fits both men perfectly.
Each should have retired long ago with honour intact and statues dedicated to their everlasting splendour. But so far, only Blatter has gone. Denying everything, reluctantly, gracelessly. Not because he wants to save the world’s favourite sport from ever more disgrace, but because even his most fervent acolytes can no longer put up with the international outcry against his blatant corruption and greed.
Zuma, meanwhile, remains so enamoured of the perks and privileges of his office that he hangs on, shamelessly strangling our fragile democracy, even as storm clouds darken and thunder rumbles ever closer, ever more ominous.
For how can Zuma quit when the world’s high and mighty still welcome him with pomp, ceremony and sly reassurances that it’s always darkest just before dawn? When courtiers still fawn on him, still flatter him, still do dark, dirty and deniable deeds to win his favour?
When he literally owns the fabled ANC liberation movement — reborn as his wholly-owned, personal fiefdom?
When there’s still more rapine, pillage and plunder to be done?
The two consummate politicians have shared more than simple reluctance to give up power. It could well be that they’re both sociopaths.
Descriptions of sociopathy variously describe its victims as intelligent and charming, but also manipulative, cunning, narcissistic, grandiose, antisocial, habitual liars, often criminal, lacking any sense of moral responsibility, social conscience or remorse.
Some famous people labelled as sociopaths (some were undoubtedly psychopaths too) include Robert Mugabe, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Idi Amin, Bernie Madoff, Teddy Roosevelt, Jean-Bédel Bokassa and even John F. Kennedy. Then there’s always Hannibal Lector, Sherlock Holmes, Othello and at least one of my bosses over the years.
This is not a scientific analysis of Blatter and Zuma. Instead, it’s based on more than fifty years practicing the honourable craft of journalism in more than a dozen countries.
And trying to understand and explain ordinary people, sinners and saints, to the world.
I leave the scientific analysis to the Freudians and Jungians who will spend many happy years writing competing analyses of the two men. And doubtless disagree over how and why they’ve been able to seize and hold such enormous, dangerous undemocratic power when their behaviour was so often certifiable.
In the meantime, this is my journalistic take on Blatter and Zuma.
Men without shame.
One down and one to go.
Tim Knight is an Emmy Award-winning international broadcast journalist and trainer. He’s author of Storytelling and the Anima Factor and lives in Fish Hoek near Cape Town.