South African president calls Marikana shootings 'a mishap'

South African President Jacob Zuma. Photo: Reuters

Maybe “mishap” was not quite the right word for President Jacob Zuma to use to describe the most deadly massacre in the history of modern South Africa. It does not reflect the brutality; it does not imply much regret.

Mr Zuma is not the greatest orator - he is no Nelson Mandela - and English is not his first language.

But it is the fact that his deeds and words seem to match that make them so damaging. His response to Marikana has been characterised as being limp, slow and uncaring. As a leader, he is often criticised for being distracted and deluded.

Zuma broke a habit of his presidency by talking at length to foreign reporters in Johannesburg today.

His aides are clearly rattled by international coverage of their country: earlier this month, after an article in ‘The Economist’ argued that South Africa is “sliding downhill”, they put out an extraordinary 1,500 word rebuttal (longer than the article itself).

Yet, the president told us today that the extra column inches that South Africa is currently getting are to report the fact that the country is “moving forward”. Perhaps he doesn’t read many of those newspapers.

He blamed the apartheid legacy for many of the country’s present-day ills. Few would disagree.

But he gave the impression of a man who is unwilling to face the challenges within his country.

He told a huddle of gathered reporters that running post-apartheid South Africa was like steering the Titanic.

The ‘ship’ analogy works. But many South Africans believe that under President Zuma their country just might be sinking