Psychoanalysis and governance (from 2012)

Jet size will al­ways be a big is­sue for wizard of id

Business Day, 6 Jul 2012

THE mi­nor­ity of un­pa­tri­otic cit­i­zens who have ques­tioned the pro­posed pur­chase of a R2bn Boe­ing 777 jet for Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma ap­pear to have been led astray by the na­tional news me­dia. First, de­spite me­dia claims, for­mer de­fence min­is­ter Lindiwe Sisulu’s of­fi­cials ap­par­ently ap­plied for Trea­sury ap­proval to de­vi­ate from nor­mal pro­cure­ment prac­tices a whole week be­fore for­mally ac­cept­ing Boe­ing’s gen­er­ous $200m terms. How long do Trea­sury bu­reau­crats need?

Sec­ond, the spec­i­fied price for the plane of $155m (R1,26bn) is a steal. The 12 000km range brings key des­ti­na­tions such as Nkandla within easy reach. The take-off ca­pac­ity of 322 000kg can ac­com­mo­date the African Na­tional Congress (ANC) top six and al­most all of Zuma’s neph­ews. The over­all pack­age in­cludes a Global Ex­press 600 for Deputy Pres­i­dent Kgalema Mot­lanthe that serves as a re­minder that the pres­i­dent’s air­craft should be big­ger than his deputy’s. Third, the deal gen­er­ously in­cludes “re­con­fig­ur­ing the jet to pres­i­den­tial needs” for just an­other $80m.

Some com­men­ta­tors sug­gest it might best rep­re­sent Zuma’s pres­i­dency if it makes “a lot of noise without ever get­ting off the ground”. Oth­ers claim it might veer re­lent­lessly to the right, de­spite tri­par­tite al­liance copi­lots’ ef­forts to pull their “joy-stick” to the left.

In re­al­ity, the mod­i­fi­ca­tions prob­a­bly amount to lit­tle more than a mod­est cat­tle kraal fa­cil­ity and ad­di­tional fuel tanks so pres­i­den­tial ad­vis­ers can fly direct to Dis­ney­land with their fam­i­lies.

Costly dy­namic sta­bilis­ers may be re­quired to neu­tralise lon­gi­tu­di­nal in­sta­bil­ity when the ANC sec­re­tary-gen­eral hur­ries to­wards the rest-rooms. Aerial gy­ro­scopes will be needed to pre­vent Pro­gres­sive Busi­ness Move­ment head Re­nier Schoe­man from send­ing the air­craft into a “spi­ral di­ver­gence” or “Dutch roll” that could cause it to wag its po­lit­i­cal tail from left to right.

Ob­sessed with their anti-zuma witch hunt, jour­nal­ists have over­looked the pos­si­bil­ity that the ANC’S “sec­ond tran­si­tion” might be­come a unique “un­con­scious phase” of pub­lic pol­icy in­no­va­tion. The un­con­scious is a realm in which Zuma has emerged defini­tively as a global leader.

The fa­ther of psy­cho­anal­y­sis, Sig­mund Freud, claimed that even hard-up pa­tients ben­e­fit from pay­ing con­sul­ta­tion fees. Schooled on ob­so­lete the­o­ries of pub­lic fi­nan­cial man­age­ment, com­men­ta­tors fail to recog­nise the cor­re­spond­ing “ther­a­peu­tic” value for poor cit­i­zens of pay­ing road tolls.

Univer­sity of Ari­zona pro­fes­sor David Gibbs ar­gues that gov­ern­ment bu­reau­cra­cies can func­tion like Freudian minds. They un­know­ingly “re­press” in­for­ma­tion and ideas that might em­bar­rass of­fi­cials. Zuma has taken this insight and built upon it.

Freud, more­over, posited a ra­tio­nal “ego” in ev­ery hu­man psy­che (a tiny Pravin Gord­han for­ever telling hu­man be­ings to stop en­joy­ing them­selves). But the “id”— the un­con­scious home of the plea­sure prin­ci­ple — has been a driv­ing force of Zuma’s pres­i­dency, in­creas­ingly del­ug­ing the fis­cal “no-man” with its he­do­nis­tic de­mands.

We also can­not ig­nore the link­ages that Freud posits be­tween sex­u­al­ity and power. “Mine must be big­ger than yours” is an un­spo­ken im­per­a­tive in pres­i­den­tial jet­liner pro­cure­ment.

The im­por­tance of Freudian anal­y­sis be­came clear in SA in the late 1990s, when econ­omy clus­ter min­is­ter Alec Er­win be­gan his cam­paign for erot­i­cally charged in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ment. Pro­pos­als for large hol­low ob­jects such as sci­ence park ware­houses, iron-ore smelters and nu­clear re­ac­tors, are, if Freudi­ans are to be be­lieved, as­so­ci­ated with fe­male gen­i­talia. Rock­ets, min­is­te­rial cars and other en­gorged or elon­gated ob­jects are linked to male re­pro­duc­tive or­gans and per­haps as­so­ci­ated sex­ual patholo­gies.

Freudian trends came to a head, so to speak, in re­cent years when for­mer trans­port min­is­ter Sbu Nde­bele made high-speed rail a part of na­tional trans­port pol­icy. By fir­ing Nde­bele a cou­ple of weeks ago, Zuma sac­ri­ficed his one-time dream of bul­let-shaped trains re­peat­edly en­ter­ing and leav­ing tun­nels. Surely we can let him keep his big jet?


Butler teaches public policy at UCT

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