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Two presidents

“Brothers from another mother”

by Henning Melber

In brief

Mutually supportive: The presidents of South >frica and Zimbabwe, Jacob Zuma and Robert Mugabe.

Mutually supportive: The presidents of South >frica and Zimbabwe, Jacob Zuma and Robert Mugabe.

In mid-November 2016, Trevor Noah called Donald Trump and Jacob Zuma “brothers from another mother”. He hinted at the decline of South Africa after falling for a leader ANC followers mistook for a charismatic, anti-establishment rebel. Noah is the South African comedian who hosts the “The Daily Show”, a satirical TV programme in the USA.

There are indeed several similarities. The journalist Ranjeni Munusamy points out that both politicians use their children as “business fronts, in a prime position to gain financially from government and their fathers’ political connections.” Americans like to call this kind of arrangement “crony capitalism” when it occurs in developing countries.

It is striking, moreover, that both Zuma and Trump are known for misogynist tendencies. Zuma was accused of rape, and Trump’s bragging about grabbing women by the genitals was documented on tape. Another similarity is that both politicians are prone to denying opponents any legitimacy, but they do not worry much about breaching even basic norms of conduct themselves. Neither of them likes to discuss conflicts of interest or provide the transparency needed to assess such matters thoroughly. In spite of obviously being privileged, both managed to make voters see them as anti-establishment insurgents, fighting for the masses.

Another South African to notice the similarities is Tinyiko Maluleke, a professor at the University of Pretoria: “If I were Trump,” he says, “I would seek to learn as much as possible from the rise and especially the imminent fall of Zuma.” The big difference between the two is that Zuma has been in office for seven years. People’s disappointment is palpable.



Munusamy, R., 2016: Out-trumping Trump.