South Africa, Politics

With Mdluli shift, Zuma steps away from the ledge. Again.

By Greg Nicolson 10 May 2012

Overwhelming public pressure has led police minister Nathi Mthethwa to remove Richard Mdluli, the man with one of SA’s most famous rap sheets of alleged crimes, from his role as chief of criminal intelligence. It’s a win for the public and proof that President Jacob Zuma is the, like, Keith Richards of politics. By GREG NICOLSON.

“I’ve done so much bloody blow in my life, I don’t miss it an inch. I think it gave me up,” wrote Keith Richards in his biography. For decades the Rolling Stones guitarist woke up to a “breakfast of champions” – a steady balance of heroin and cocaine.

The police raided during one LSD trip, with Marianne Faithfull on the couch in a rabbit-pelt rug. “They just looked like very small people wearing dark blue with shiny bits and helmets. ‘Wonderful attire! Am I expecting you? Anyway, come on in, it’s a bit chilly out,’” he told the officers.

As the “coolest rock star in the world”, Richards has cheated Lucifer because he has had access to the highest quality dope and has been meticulous about the quantities he’s induced.

The writer of the “Satisfaction” riff isn’t so different from our president. And they have more in common than their ways with women.

By many accounts, Zuma’s career should be out of our heads by now. On Tuesday, we asked if the Richard Mdluli saga was Zuma’s Waterloo. “One day, when Zuma’s political biography is finally completed, it is possible that the moment he lost it was the moment when he thought he finally found it: that moment when he thought he could control us all.” That moment seemed near.

Charges of murder, fraud and corruption against Mdluli had been dropped. He was reinstated with little explanation. It emerged that he’d had contact with the president and pledged his support. We also learnt that someone was trying to intimidate the prosecutor who wanted to uphold Mdluli’s charges. Coincidentally, that prosecutor was suspended.

If Zuma didn’t remove Mdluli, wrote the Mail & Guardian, “the anger within the security services, the prosecuting authority, the ANC and civil society may engulf President Zuma in a way that a few bent cops simply cannot control.”

But Zuma cheated death once again on Wednesday. Mthethwa announced Mdluli would be shifted from his post to another division. The state law adviser will lead an investigation into Mdluli’s claim that there’s a conspiracy trying to remove him as crime intelligence head.

“Whilst this probe is underway, we have, in consultation with the acting national police commissioner, decided that Lieutenant General Mdluli should be shifted from his current position with effect today, as the head of crime intelligence and moved to another division, as determined by the acting national police commissioner,” said Mthethwa.

Evidence will inevitably emerge of what will happen to Mdluli, but for now we can only guess. He may be getting groomed to be national police commissioner. He might go into obscurity. Critics are still hoping there’ll be an inquiry into the whole saga and the National Prosecuting Authority will resume charges.

For Mthethwa the announcement is a complete about-face. He continually responded to calls to have Mdluli suspended by saying he wouldn’t interfere with SAPS decisions.

In the aftermath of the e-tolls being suspended, it might be seen as another example of the government bowing to immense public pressure. Both cases involved relentless focus and the refusal to accept what we were delivered. The final straw was the letter City Press uncovered in which Mdluli said he would “assist the president to succeed next year” if reinstated.

And so, just as the pressure on Zuma was set to exceed its designed limit, he was able to hit the relief valve. It’s not the first time. He danced around his rape trial and dodged the fraud charges. Having a baby out of wedlock didn’t bring him down, nor did the bias of Willem Heath, Zuma’s failed choice to head the Special Investigating Unit. In the easy light of retrospection, Malema hardly stood a chance.

Like Richards, Zuma knows how to limit his drugs (collecting the strings of power, in the president’s case) while still pushing the limit. Mdluli will be “shifted” to another position – not suspended and not prosecuted. Zuma tried to get his high, but was sure to limit the severity of his come-down.

But it’s important to remember that one day Richards will pass. The question is: will it be from old age, from one too many tours, a Viagra mishap (which may also be applicable to Zuma), or the drugs finally catching up with him?

Zuma won’t be around forever either. Will it be the debauchery of the system that brings him down? Will he kick the habit, like Richards, and go out on his own terms? Or will he keep trying to control South Africa’s institutions of justice, those “very small people wearing dark blue”, as our tears go by? DM

Read more:

  • Zuma letter led to Mdluli’s removal in City Press.

Photo by Bongiwe Gumede/foto 24.



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