Five years ago, I got into trouble with some readers of Business Day for complaining that South Africans too readily subscribe to the mantra, “Don’t speak ill of the dead.” This was after the demise of Louis Luyt, whose obituaries tended to emphasise his rise from fertiliser salesman to rugby administrator and to gloss over his role as apartheid propagandist. Forgive and forget: two dangerous words when it comes to politicians. If the rebranding of Jacob Zuma is anything to go by, however, the Zuma camp is quite confident that South Africans don’t have to wait for someone to die before they are willing to forgive and forget. The man who used to be public enemy number one is now being presented to us as a social media sage, a default member of the pantheon of ANC stalwarts, and (God help us) a recording artist. This is all rather predictable — depressingly so — not least because of the intersection with an election year, the governing party’s absurd “unity” campaign and the transpare...

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