President Tripped Over Own Audacity

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In his history of “The ANC in Exile”, Stephen Ellis suggested that the story of the ANC in government since 1994 inevitably caused people including himself, to ask new questions about its past “or to place new interpretations on events that may previously not have seemed significant”.

It is a most apposite approach also for us in relation to Jacob Zuma, who has resigned as President of South Africa with less than two years of his second term to run.

Given what we have experienced under a Zuma presidency of the ANC and of South Africa, Ellis’s suggestion that we turn towards the past to better interpret the present-day is helpful.

Zuma, known familiarly as JZ, by his clan name Msholozi, or uBaba and uBaba ka Duduzane was born in rural Kwazulu-Natal on  April 12, 1942. Aged 17, he joined the ANC in 1959 and, in 1962, the armed wing uMkhonto we Sizwe or MK.

In 1963, at the age of 21, he was arrested at Zeerust while attempting to flee the country to link up with the ANC in Zambia, convicted of conspiring to overthrow the government, and sentenced to 10 years on Robben Island.

Released from the Island on December 29, 1973, he returned to Nkandla focused on building non-racial worker structures, but later fled to Swaziland and Mozambique as security police closed in. There he worked with Soweto youths who had gone into voluntary exile and 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.

As exiles returned home with the unbanning of the liberation movements in 1990, Zuma worked alongside Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki ahead of the 1994 democratic elections. He had a critical role in ending the internecine war between ANC comrades and Inkatha members in Kwazulu-Natal. But the ANC failed to win control of KZN in the elections and, instead of being sworn in as premier, JZ had to contend with being MEC for economic affairs and tourism. In 1994, he was also elected national and KZN chair of the ANC.

In 1997 in Mafikeng, Zuma was elected national deputy president of the ANC. In 1999, when Thabo Mbeki succeeded Nelson Mandela as president of the republic, he became South Africa’s deputy president.

Up to that point, despite some naysayers, Zuma seemed to have a shot at running for president. There had been hints of skeletons in the closet. He shrugged off allegations he was implicated in the death of Thami Zulu (Muziwakhe Ngwenya), detained in exile by the ANC by the Zuma-led security and intelligence department on claims he was a spy for the apartheid regime.

JZ was also closely involved in Operation Vula, an off-the-books ANC operation mainly composed of comrades with KZN connections which aimed to directly overthrow the apartheid regime.

But it was growing concern about Zuma’s personal ethics which would temporarily kybosh his ambitions. He was exposed as financially dependent on his “financial advisor” and former comrade Shabir Shaik. Shaik’s corruption trial heard evidence he had made 238 payments totalling R1.2-million to Zuma, who 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.

This caused Mbeki to fire Zuma in June 2005 on the basis of so-called prima facie evidence of wrongdoing. At the same time, Zuma faced a charge of rape brought by Fezekile Kuzwayo, also known as Khwezi. The court accepted Zuma’s evidence that he had had consensual (and unprotected) sex with Fezekile when she stayed over at his house in Forest Town, Johannesburg.

Zuma bounced back in 2007, first toppling Mbeki as ANC president in a bruising battle at the Polokwane elective conference.

Shortly afterwards, the National Prosecuting Authority served charges of fraud, corruption and money laundering on JZ, which were later ruled as unprocedural by Judge Chris Nicholson. Although the Supreme Court of Appeal had harsh criticism of Nicholson’s judgment, it provided an impetus for the ruling party to recall Mbeki as the country’s president and install caretaker Kgalema Motlanthe.

Nicholson also provided a reason for the NPA to withdraw all charges in mid-2009. The ruling party immediately moved in Parliament to elect Zuma as president, replacing Motlanthe. He was sworn in on May 9, 2009 in Pretoria. After finishing his first term as president, he was the ruling party’s only candidate in the 2014 general elections,

In a 1986 interview about his formative years, Zuma related how, as a child, he had met a veteran of the 1906 Bambatha war of resistance against colonisation and how, as a teenager, he was impressed by stories of Kenya’s Mau Mau and Ghana’s independence movement. It is telling that Zuma could have so vividly appreciated major continental political developments at such a young age. The enduring and far-reaching influence of politics on Zuma is evident.

Jacob was five-years-old when his policeman father died and left his three young sons in the care of their domestic worker mother. He watched his mother fend for him and his brothers. Later, he would also travel to the city to seek work.

He was immersed in the politics and traditions of the ANC movement through political education classes from an early age. On Robben Island, he grabbed opportunities to participate in ANC structures, including chairing the political committee. But he did not receive a single visitor during his imprisonment – encouraging his mother to use her meagre resources to provide for his siblings rather than making the costly trip. Unsurprisingly, his ANC comrades led by Nelson Mandela became his family.

Some of his closest, most enduring relationships have been forged in struggle, in closely-guarded secrets, in criminal acts in exile. But many in the democratic era have also forsaken the former bonds. In exile, Zuma and Mbeki were close – Zuma credited Mbeki as having taught him how to shoot a gun, according to writer Mark Gevisser – and their key leadership roles at South Africa’s turn to democracy ensured a close working relationship. However, factionalism was always a part of the comradely interplay, and this continued when the exiles returned home. Those sympathetic to Zuma would believe his dismissal by Mbeki was also fuelled by previous tensions between them, views on the armed struggle versus negotiation, including opposing views on Vula, even sentiments driven by supposed Xhosa versus Zulu identity.

After deposing the aloof, neo-liberal, intellectual Mbeki, the populist, workerist Zuma ensured that every vestige of his nemesis’s influence was eroded from government.

He willy-nilly changed his Cabinet 12 times in total, without any regard to competence, knowledge, experience, global issues or national interest. He pushed for the New Growth Path to cancel ASGISA and also agreed to the painstaking knitting together of the National Development Plan, although effectively only paid lip service to it.

A critical policy change 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.

Mbeki may have been committed to the African Renaissance but Zuma was a strong proponent of “the African way”, especially in problem-solving on the continent, even while he abhorred Africans “who become too clever” or kleva blacks.

Mbeki had mostly eschewed tradition in the face of rational argument. Msholozi made no bones about his affinity with tradition, not only the harmless cultural accoutrements of being Zulu, but also adopting political positions which were antithetical to a progressive dispensation. He was strident in a 2006 Heritage Day speech about what would happen were a gay man to stand in front of him. “I would knock him out.”

In sync with fundamentalist Christians, JZ supported corporal punishment as a means of parents disciplining their children, even if our courts have held it to be unconstitutional. Conversely, he also pointed to how Christianity has usurped traditional ways of life in the country.

He espoused an “olden days” view of women, where they knew their lesser value and servile place in relation to men. On rampant teenage pregnancy, Zuma intoned that young mothers must be put on Robben Island to learn how to look after their children (presumably as he had learnt about family on the island). Later he asserted “kids are important… because they give extra training to a woman, to be a mother”.

On Zimbabwe there was no noticeable policy change. Zuma agreed the ANC in government would not abandon Mugabe – perhaps because, to do so would set a precedent that a despotic, corrupt president could be ousted and face the wrath of his people afterwards.

Zuma’s most politically and economically audacious move was to fire Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister in December 2015 because he refused to play along with the state capture cabal’s plans. Replacing Nene with backbencher David van Rooyen was a step too far and he was persuaded to bring back Pravin Gordhan – ironically, also rooted in KZN movement politics – to lead the Treasury.

Audacity was needed, however, because to achieve his ambition of taking over the country in toto, he and his proxies had to control every state-owned company and agency, secure all state income streams for himself, his relatives and the Guptas.

Zuma had met Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta sometime around 2006. The family had relocated from India to South Africa in the mid 1990s in pursuit of a fresh economic windfall. It is not clear who targeted whom but soon Zuma, through his wife, Bongi Ngema-Zuma, his children Duduzane and Duduzile, and other relatives, was in serious business with the Guptas.

The allocation of state resources for a Gupta family wedding at Sun City, including giving permission for a private charter jet to land at Waterkloof air force base, was only the most visible sign of state capture. Literally billions of rands have been creamed off the business of SOEs like Transnet, PRASA and Eskom through corrupt deals with Gupta-linked companies which were facilitated either directly by Zuma or through the mere mention of uBaba’s name.

The family’s obscene meddling in the affairs of the South African State was no clearer than when they offered former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas the job of his boss, Minister Nene, with a signing bonus of R600 000 plus a future R600-million. The intention was clear: Once the country’s treasury was under the control  of a Gupta acolyte, there would be no limit on how much could be looted from the state.

Zuma has been forced to agree to a commission of enquiry to investigate the issues raised in the Public Protector’s “State of Capture” report.

Former PP Thuli Madonsela also detailed the extent of over-spending on government-sponsored upgrades to Zuma’s private Nkandla homestead, 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.

Zuma has 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 he 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 him was irrational. A final decision from the NPA regarding reinstatement of the charges is pending.

Zuma is a people’s person, described by one commentator as “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 his own.

He has never denied conflating the ANC and the State, has made no excuse for putting his organisation first, even before the country’s constitution, has never regretted using the ANC as if it was his personal fiefdom. Given a chance, he would happily have ruled on behalf of the ANC until Jesus returned.

Many regard Zuma as aberrant in the context of a coterie of virtuous ANC leaders like Mandela and Tambo. But, he is exactly a product of his 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, he suffered the ignominy of being a lame duck president of the republic.

It was only a matter of time before he stepped down as the country’s leader.

President Tripped Over Own Audacity
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