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 12000km range brings key destinations such as Nkandla within easy reach. The take-off capacity of 322000kg 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 co-pilots' 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 South Africa 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 politics at the University of Cape Town.