Imagine if Jacob Zuma had to tell his truth, had to honestly explain why he had to vacate the office of President of South Africa, told us what propelled him to act in the way he did, how and why he became the person we, South Africans, got to know so well since his permanent return to our country in 1989-90. How might that truth sound? And would his truth be the truth we wanted to hear?
‘My name is Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma. I am also known by those who know me as JZ, by my clan name Msholozi, or uBaba and, more recently, as uBaba ka Duduzane, after my son became almost as famous as me when he was swallowed up in the Gupta family in order for the brothers to stay close to me..
I am the former President of South Africa.
I was born in rural Kwazulu-Natal on April 12, 1942.
I was five-years-old when my policeman father died and left his young children in the care of our mother, who was a domestic worker in Durban. My father also left seven children from his first wife. After my father died, I grew up at my mother’s family homestead where I tended my grandfather’s cattle. I never attended formal school but eventually started teaching myself, using the books of other children in the area. I was very close to my mother, but she had to leave us in the rural areas in order to work to support me and my siblings.
Later, I also travelled to the city to seek work. The poverty of my childhood was to have a lifelong impact on my life and my enduring commitment, come what may, to ensuring that my family had no reason to want for anything.
When I was a child, I met a veteran of the 1906 Bambatha war of resistance against colonisation. Later, as a teenager, I was impressed by the stories of Kenya’s Mau Mau and Ghana’s independence movement; not only the facts of standing up against oppressors, any oppressor, but the act of opposing those who happened to be white and intent on re-colonising our African people, These experiences had a deeply profound impact on me at the time and continued to have an influence on me later in life.
I was immersed in the politics and traditions of the ANC movement through political education classes from an early age. In 1959, at the age of 17, I joined the ANC and, in 1962, the armed wing uMkhonto we Sizwe or MK.
I wanted to contribute towards the liberation of our people from white oppression and, in 1963, at the age of 21, I prepared to go into exile to link up with the ANC in Zambia. However, I was arrested at Zeerust while attempting to flee the country. I was convicted of conspiring to overthrow the government, and sentenced to 10 years on Robben Island.
On Robben Island, I immersed myself in ANC structures, including chairing the political committee. I encouraged my mother to use her meagre resources to provide for my siblings rather than making the costly trip to see me. As a result, I did not receive a single visitor during my imprisonment. My ANC comrades led by Nelson Mandela became my family.
I was released from the Island on December 29, 1973, and after a brief detention by the security police, I returned to Nkandla. This was a time of growing non-racial worker activism in the Durban area and I was committed to participating in growing these structures.
But, because of the ongoing repression of the state, I later fled to Swaziland and Mozambique, where I worked with Soweto youths who had gone into voluntary exile. It was here that I first met and worked with Comrade Thabo Mbeki. Through my good work and the confidence of the leadership, I became the ANC’s chief representative in Maputo before being deployed in Lusaka in 1987 as head of the ANC’s security and intelligence department. This position was a critically important one, given the National Party regime’s ongoing efforts to infiltrate our ranks and wipe out our movement. This was a time for a quick wit, a suspicious mind and a firm hand. My appointment to the job was a measure both of my loyalty to the ANC and of my strategic skills in protecting the organisation’s interests.
I was closely involved in Operation Vula, an ANC operation mainly composed of comrades with KZN connections which aimed to directly overthrow the apartheid regime. This ran counter to the line which Comrade Thabo had pursued – under the protective mantle of OR Tambo – of testing the possibility of a negotiated settlement with the National Party government. I can say this probably was the biggest challenge up to that point in my relationship with Thabo Mbeki.
As exiles returned home with the unbanning of the liberation movements in 1990, I worked alongside Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki ahead of the 1994 democratic elections. I played a critical role in ending the internecine war between ANC comrades and Inkatha members in Kwazulu-Natal. But the euphoria of an end to racial oppression and violence was not enough for the ANC to win the elections in KZN and ensure that I became premier. My ambitions had to be put to one side for a period. Instead, I was appointed as MEC for economic affairs and tourism. In 1994, I was also elected national and KZN chair of the ANC.
I became national deputy president of the ANC In 1997 in Mafikeng and, two years later, when Thabo Mbeki succeeded Nelson Mandela as president of the republic, I became South Africa’s deputy president. I was able to use my various positions in government and the ruling party to ensure my family was taken care of financially. It would be only a matter of time before I was elevated to the highest office in both the party and government.
There were some naysayers who questioned my skills and my integrity, also claiming there were skeletons in my closet. But I shrugged off allegations that I was involved in the death of Thami Zulu (Muziwakhe Ngwenya), whom my department in exile had detained on the basis that we believed he was a spy for the apartheid regime. I have never denied that, at all times, we did what was necessary for our beloved movement. I have never been convicted of anything apart from the charge which led to my jailing on the island.
But it was growing concern about my personal ethics which would temporarily stall my leadership trajectory. I was exposed as financially dependent on my financial advisor and former comrade Shabir Shaik. Shabir’s corruption trial heard evidence he had made 238 payments totalling R1.2-million to me. I was also alleged to have asked Thint’s chief executive Alain Thetard for a R500 000 annual bribe to smooth the French company’s participation in the hotly contested arms deal. I struggle to this day to understand what the brouhaha is all about.
The upshot is that I had given Mbeki a reason to fire me and In June 2005, he announced his decision to the nation. Shortly thereafter, I faced a charge of rape brought by Fezekile Kuzwayo, also known as Khwezi. The court accepted my evidence that Fezekile and I had had consensual (and unprotected) sex when she stayed over at my house in Forest Town, Johannesburg. I had sex with her even though her father was my close comrade in exile and she was like a daughter to me. But, what was I to do when she walked around in a k(h)anga in my home?
I bounced back starting in 2007, when my strategy to overcome Mbeki as ANC president bore rich fruit after a bruising battle at the Polokwane elective conference. Shortly afterwards, the National Prosecuting Authority served charges of fraud, corruption and money laundering on me, which were later ruled as unprocedural by Judge Chris Nicholson. The Supreme Court of Appeal would later have harsh criticism of Nicholson’s judgment, but I did not care, as it provided an impetus for the ruling party to recall Mbeki as the country’s president and install caretaker Kgalema Motlanthe until I could take over.
Nicholson also provided a reason for the NPA to withdraw all charges in mid-2009. My ANC immediately moved in Parliament to elect me as president, replacing Motlanthe. I was sworn in on May 9, 2009 in Pretoria. The rest, as we say, is history.
Some of my closest, longest relationships have been forged in struggle, in closely-guarded secrets, even in the necessary criminal acts we had to undertake in exile. But many in the democratic era have also turned their backs on me despite our former closeness.
In exile, Mbeki and I were close – he actually taught me how to shoot a gun – and our key leadership roles at the dawn of democracy ensured a close working relationship. However, factionalism was always present among comrades, and this continued when we returned home. As some of my allies have suggested, my dismissal by Mbeki was also fuelled by previous tensions between us, views on the armed struggle versus negotiation, including opposing views on Vula, even sentiments driven by our respective Xhosa and Zulu identity. It continued with a vengeance after he booted me from Government.
After I deposed Mbeki, who was generally thought of as an aloof, intellectual, neo-liberal, I ensured that every vestige of his influence was eroded from government. I changed my Cabinet willy-nilly, actually 12 times in total, without any regard to competence, knowledge, experience, global issues or national interest.
I went through the motions on most policy issues, carrying out what the bureaucrats or technocrats wanted, except of course when my own interests – or of those who supported me financially – mattered; then I watched like a hawk to ensure there were no hiccups.
A critical policy change from the former presidency was to radically improve access to anti-retrovirals for people living with HIV-Aids. This resulted in a huge drop in mortality due to HIV-Aids.
My predecessor may have been committed to the African Renaissance but I argued strongly for “the African way”, especially in problem-solving on the continent, although I still intensely dislike Africans “who become too clever” or kleva blacks.
While Mbeki seemed to turn up his nose at tradition in the face of rational argument. I made no bones about my love of tradition, not only the harmless cultural artefacts of being a Zulu man, but also adopting political positions which were in conflict with our liberal dispensation. I told the country and the world in no uncertain terms what I thought of homosexuality. I said in a 2006 Heritage Day speech that if a gay man were to stand in front of me, “I would knock him out.”
I support the rights of fundamentalist Christians who want to be able to use corporal punishment as a means of disciplining their children, even if our courts have held it to be unconstitutional. But, I also pointed out how Christianity has destroyed our traditional, African, ways of life in the country.
I do not support “modern” ideas about women. They must know their place, that they are lower than men. On rampant teenage pregnancy, I suggested that young mothers must be put on Robben Island to learn how to look after their children (as I had learnt about family on the island). Later I pointed out that “kids are important… because they give extra training to a woman, to be a mother”.
On Zimbabwe there was no noticeable policy change. I agreed the ANC in government would not abandon Mugabe – to be fair, I was looking to my own interests: It was not politically astute to set a precedent that a despotic, corrupt president could be ousted and face the wrath of his people afterwards.
Slowly but surely, I was succeeding in controlling all the levers of power, as agreed with my most ardent supporters, Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta. I first met the Guptas around 2006. It is not clear who targeted whom but I was soon in cahoots with them through business links involving my wife, Bongi Ngema-Zuma, my children Duduzane and Duduzile, and other relatives.
The intention was that the family – mine and the Guptas, together with some trusted associates in the ANC, would control the state, especially the income streams which flowed from huge infrastructure projects like nuclear power and state-owned companies. I would always have a place in the setup, even if it was a ceremonial one, to meet and greet visiting dignitaries.
Because we had no real interest in the responsibilities of a proper functioning state to its citizens, I realised that It’s no different, really, to running any other spaza shop. Already, we have secured billions of rands through deals with Gupta-linked companies which were facilitated either directly by myself or through the mere mention of my name. Eventually we would leave the state – depleted, denuded, broken – for others to fix, never doubting that they would fix it.
Perhaps the Guptas were too arrogant in expecting state resources to be allocated for a family wedding at Sun City, including asking for permission for a private charter jet to land at Waterkloof air force base. Some may say the family’s mistake was to offer former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas the job of his boss, Minister Nhlanhla Nene, with a signing bonus of R600 000 plus a future R600-million.
We needed to fire finance Nene in December 2015 when he refused to back our cabal’s plans, including the nuclear deal, and it was clear he would continue to be a thorn in our side as we sought to loot as much as we could from the Treasury. Replacing Nene with backbencher David van Rooyen proved a step too far and I was persuaded to bring back Pravin Gordhan – ironically, also rooted in KZN movement politics but not part of my clique of friends.
In the last months of my presidency, I was forced to agree to a commission of enquiry to investigate the issues raised in the Public Protector’s “State of Capture” report, which exactly reflected my relations with the Guptas and our shared intentions.
The former PP, Thuli Madonsela, also detailed the extent of over-spending on government-sponsored upgrades to my private homestead at Nkandla, based on an official security assessment in 2009. Initial security improvements of R27-million were recommended, but this successively mushroomed to more than R250-million, although nobody knows the exact amount. But why should it bother anyone how much it costs to secure my family, when I have sacrificed my entire life for the ANC, in exile and in government.
I have faced unremitting legal and Parliamentary attacks, including votes of no confidence by MPs who included at least 20 ANC comrades. In 2016, the Constitutional Court ruled that I had failed to uphold the Constitution and that the PP’s Nkandla report was binding. The SCA upheld a Gauteng high court decision that the NPA’s decision to drop charges against me was irrational. A final decision from the NPA regarding reinstatement of the charges is pending.
I am a people’s person, fearless, loyal and affable, an extrovert to a fault, happiest when others’ interests – like traditional dancing, singing, stick fighting, soccer, admiring women, spending money – dovetail my own.
I like the fact that so many people have made the mistake of calling me stupid because I never had the benefit of formal education. It has allowed me to operate below the radar many times because people have assumed that I am not intelligent enough to upset the apple cart. I have used my personal attributes – when and how it has suited me and not at the behest of anyone else, especially our historical enemies. I have exhibited my inherent knowledge of people; my informal learning of things; my strategic abilities; skills of leadership; my resources of attention even when conveniently falling asleep; the warmth of my engagement with friends, strangers, even enemies and especially my swiftness when dealing with enemies even though it may seem as if I have been out-manoeuvred; my gift of the gab generally – and particularly in confusing the non-suspecting or when introducing irony ( remember my complaints against those guilty of patronage or corruption?). I’ve always reserved the right to change my mind, to say one thing and mean something completely different, even the exact opposite, to contradict official policy, even to contradict myself. I’m even committed to telling you what you want to hear.
The name my father gave me, Gedleyihlekisa, has served me well. It means “I won’t keep quiet when someone deceives me with a beautiful smile while he is doing damage to me”. I have turned it back on my enemies with my own smile.
I have never denied conflating the ANC and the State, have made no excuse for putting my organisation first, even before the country’s constitution, have never regretted using the ANC as if it was my personal fiefdom. Given a chance, I would happily have ruled on behalf of the ANC until Jesus returned.
Many regard me as aberrant in the context of a coterie of virtuous ANC leaders like Mandela and Oliver Tambo. But, I am exactly a product of my upbringing within apartheid South Africa, a poor rural Zulu boy, an activist, a prisoner on the Island, and a member of the ANC family for over 50 years.
Since the December election of Cyril Ramaphosa as president of the ANC, I have suffered the ignominy of being a lame duck president of the republic. Eventually I had to step down as the country’s leader.’ – AS INTERPRETED BY RAY HARTLE