Jacob Zuma’s opening statement at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture on Monday provides interesting material for students of psychiatry and psychology.
None of the individual flashing signals necessarily denotes any disorder. But collectively they could present a case worth discussing.
First, much of Zuma’s statement is in the third person, as if he were talking about a person other than himself. Smeagol/Gollum in Lord of the Rings and Dobby in the Harry Potter series talk about themselves in the third person.
Here is an example: “Now Zuma has information on these [former apartheid spies]. We don’t know when he will use this information, to stop this plan … and therefore they took a decision that Zuma must be removed”.
Constant self-referencing in this manner can indicate narcissism – excessive self-focus.
Although the American Psychiatric Association no longer regards narcissistic personality disorder as an official category in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, “most mental health professionals still recognise narcissism as a significant personality disturbance”, says Dr George Simon in a 2015 article on counsellingresource.com. “Narcissists,” says Simon, “can never be wrong.”
You must have noticed how Zuma is never wrong. It’s always someone else’s fault. Google “Zuma blames”. You’ll have plenty to read.
None of the failures during his tenure, if there were any, can be attributed to him. On Planet Zuma, Msholozi is faultless, blameless.
Second, note Zuma’s reliance on conspiracy theories. Indeed “conspiracy” is one of the most used words in the speech. Even where it is not spelt out, its meaning is weaved into the text, thus: “I received an intelligence report, which was saying there were three intelligence organisations that met … to discuss me and had a plan to begin in 1990 a process of character assassination of Zuma”.
In Zuma’s view, the last 30 years are all about him. He is the central character, the victim and the hero, in a grand network of plots, including foreign “suicidal bombers”. Meandering innuendos, “meandos”.
Tweeps point out that the conspirators, assassins and whatnot must be useless if they have been toiling away since 1990. The result of their labours was that Zuma was elected in 2009 and remained president for nine years.
Mockery should not prevent us from acknowledging this looks like paranoia; when everyone’s out to get you. Paranoia is defined as, “a mental condition characterised by delusions of persecution, unwarranted jealousy, or exaggerated self-importance, typically worked into an organised system. It may be an aspect of chronic personality disorder, of drug abuse, or of a serious condition such as schizophrenia in which the person loses touch with reality”.
The last point about “losing touch with reality” is debatable. While there is disjuncture between the reality which Zuma depicts and dominant narratives, who is to say who is in or out of touch with what reality?
To be clear, I am not suggesting that Zuma needs psychiatric care. But he said, “I’m going to connect the dots”.
How would you join these dots?