Iago or Othello? Reading President Zuma as a construct of whiteness

Ken Barris, South Africa, ID CLEaR337;        Jacob Zuma, who has served as president of South Africa from 2009 until the present, has been a divisive figure, attracting a sustained, intensive barrage of criticism throughout his terms. I describe the phenomenon and discuss how the figure of Zuma is presented in the media as an overdetermined trope of whiteness. Drawing on the work of Siya Khumalo, Samantha Vice and Elleke Boehmer, I argue that this constructed Zuma signifies the Other from which the practice of whiteness draws its energy and self-justification. “Zuma” thereby becomes a focal point for the opposed imagery of apartheid and democratic transformation. “Zuma” is a paradoxical stereotype, however: a bumbling incompetent, a sexually incontinent and illiterate tribalist, a corruptible sociopath, and a black Machiavelli. I consider further media depictions of his body, and how these depictions refract and shape the racialised inscription of the figure. I do not consider the political/economic realities that are the content of Zuma-driven discourse. My focus is on how “Zuma” is written, and its implications for the South African political imaginary.

Key words: whiteness, Othering, Zuma, racial inscription, media