Experts on human behaviour will tell you that there are some distinct characteristics of pathological liars. They like to portray themselves as victims or afflicted in order to gain sympathy; they always avoid giving straight answers to questions; they are manipulative; they are aggressive when threatened and defensive when caught out; they lie in a relaxed way – unlike normal people, who fidget when telling an untruth; and they know to fake a smile or a giggle when doing their thing. Politics professor Anna Galeotti was quoted by the UK Daily Mail a few years ago as saying politicians make the best liars because they first work really hard at convincing themselves that their lies are true. “Self-deception is a type of motivated irrationality – the art of believing something simply because it is desired to be true when evidence points to the very opposite,” she said. “The more convinced is a political leader, the more convincing he or she appears.” Does all of the above sound familiar? Of course it does. We all witnessed this behaviour on Thursday, when the head of state stood before Parliament and let loose a plethora of lies. The man who undeservedly would like to continue putting the word “president” in front of his name just lied and lied and lied. It was not only on Thursday that we witnessed these pathological liar traits. It has happened so many times when he has been on a public platform, be it in Parliament or at a party rally. In fact, Jacob Zuma’s rise to the helm of the ANC, followed by his ascendancy to presidency of the country, was based on lies and deception. He projected himself as a champion of the poor, a man of the people who spoke for the peasantry and the working class. Meanwhile, he was gorging it up with dodgy businesspeople and getting them to pay for everything, from his car-wash bills to his kids’ school fees, in return for his helping hand. Political survival Zuma’s political survival has been based on lying about his dirty relationships with his benefactors and projecting himself as a victim. He has variously been a victim of former president Thabo Mbeki, the media, Mexican druglords, Western powers, Eskimos, big business, Antarctic penguins, disloyal comrades and the Spice Girls. Everyone is out to get him, poor thing. Zuma lied twice in front of the Chief Justice and the nation when he raised his right hand and swore to be “faithful to the Republic of South Africa”, and “solemnly and sincerely” promised “at all times to promote that which will advance, and to oppose all that may harm, the republic; to obey, observe, uphold and maintain the Constitution and all other laws of the republic...” He knew in 2009 that he had no intention to do any such thing, as his sole mission was to use the office to stay out of jail. In 2014, he was already wholly owned by the Guptas and had made the presidency just another Tegeta or Sahara – a mere subsidiary of their growing empire. In power, he has led his closest allies in launching offensives on the constitutional order and provisions of our founding law. But it is in direct defence of himself and his corruptible ways that Zuma has been most brazen in his lying. During the Nkandla controversy, he lied about his own culpability in the escalation of costs. He claimed many times that the upgrades were a department of public works project that he had no hand in or knowledge of. This, despite the fact that the architect (who should long ago have gone to home affairs to change his surname, because he is not a real Makhanya) was personally appointed and managed by him. He lied to Parliament on several occasions over aspects of the development, a grievous violation of his oath and duties. Even in his non-apology following the Constitutional Court judgment on Nkandla, there was a lie in his saying: “I wish to emphasise that I never knowingly or deliberately set out to violate the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the republic.” Now in his eighth year of lying to Parliament and the nation, the man who frequents the Gupta compound in his 22-car convoy no longer makes any effort at truth telling. On Thursday, he looked us in the eye and said he had never ordered anyone to help his family and friends access government contracts and resources. When given specific instances, he lied some more; and when pressed, he ducked and dived and avoided giving direction. This was behaviour that is straight out of a pathological liar textbook. As Zuma lied and giggled his way through the question-and-answer session, downcast and visibly embarrassed members of the ANC caucus played with their phones and iPads, and doodled in their notebooks. They knew he was lying, and only the most desperate bootlickers among them could muster the energy to mount a lame defence.
It was a painful sight. What we saw this week was a man who has internalised lying and treating the nation with contempt. On reflection, to call Zuma a pathological liar is a gross understatement. He is himself a lie.