First Thing, Daily Maverick's flagship newsletter

Join the 230 000 South Africans who read First Thing newsletter.

TRAINSPOTTER: Battle stations! The Zuma counterattack h...

South Africa

South Africa, Politics

TRAINSPOTTER: Battle stations! The Zuma counterattack has begun

The Sunday papers literally oozed with new allegations regarding the relationship between Zuma-aligned ministers and the Gupta family. And while the country awaits the appointment of a judicial committee of enquiry that will fully parse former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s “State of Capture” report, the Zumacrats have gone into full denial mode. What’s more, there is a renewed assault on Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan from the Supporters-In-Chief at the National Prosecuting Authority and the Hawks. You thought Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma was down for the count? His middle name is a fighter’s honorific; the president has barely started swinging. When he does properly enter the ring, big men will fall – and the country may go down with them. By RICHARD POPLAK.

Should I be bullish on South Africa?”

I’m fucking seriousI was actually asked this question shortly after last Thursday’s pell-mell Day of Legal Lunacy, when a Pretoria High Court judge ordered the release of Thuli Madonsela’s “State of Capture” report, which serves as the sequel to her oft-quoted Nkandla-bashing “Secure in Comfort” opus.

Considered as a piece, Thuli’s tomes represent the greatest literary achievement in South African historysadly, not because they’re in any way readable or well written. (The latest in particular seems slapdash and error-ridden.) But no one reads Tolstoy for his sentences, and Thuli’s reports are classics largely because they portray the life and times of a character so charming, greedy, cunning, hubristic and slime-drenched that he swiftly joins the pantheon of the gloriously flawed: Lear, Okonkwo, Lurie, and Skywalker (Anakin, of course, not Luke).

So I found it a little strange that, following all the Thuli-mania and Save SA latte-fuelled mini-marching, sentient South Africans still believed that Jacob Zumathe very character so vividly brought to life in Madonsela’s masterpieceswas somehow going to roll over and make like a dead puppy.

Have we learnt nothing? The man has whacked people considered to be far cleverer than he, and is so close to securing a trillion-rand retirement fund that he can actually smell the antiseptic, kiln-baked air of the United Arab Emirates.

Nah, Jacob Zuma is just getting started.

Which is why the knives have been drawn and sharpened for his enemies within the National Executive Committee, most notably ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe, and Treasurer Zweli Mkhize, who now appear to be on the Hawks hook for not reporting statements made to them by deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas. It is alleged that Jonas was offered a fantastic R600-million signing bonus were he to step into the finance minister’s position; all of this happened while he was paying an impromptu visit to the Guptas’ Saxonwold compound. (Future literary theorists will insist that the manse itself is a character in Madonsela’s latest publicationlet’s just say that for Thuli, sprawling luxury residences have become a trope.)

It’s also why the now publicly disgraced Brian Molefe, CEO of Eskom, and others within his organisation, have been damning Madonsela’s report as an attempt to destroy the power utility, while insisting that its author denied the boss the right to an interview, to say nothing of the fact that it concentrates almost exclusively on the Glencore/Gupta/Eskom nexus, with nary a word for other, less Saxonwold-centric state capture shenanigans. (I urge you to read this analysis by future president of the republic, Khaya Sithole, which offers a plausible set of explanations for Molefe’s utter brain melt regarding the sale of Optimum Coal to the Gupta’s Tageta outfit.)

It’s also why Zuma danced on stage during a Saturday rally in Dumbe, KwaZulu-Natal, warning his enemies that he’s already spent his share of time in jail, and that he was not afraidindeed, he welcomedthe promise of rent-free, state-funded accommodation.

We are not going to be intimidated,” he cried, dabbing.

And it’s why Zuma and his gang of securocrats are, according to the City Press, once again hammering at the doors of Pravin Gordhan’s officethis time with a relentlessness that would be terrifying if it weren’t so inept.


So how is this all flushing out?

A small sample of the players: ANC Youth League president, Collen Maine (the fake youth), along with Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, and ANC MK Military Veterans Association Kebby Maphatsoe (the fake soldier), and ANC Women’s League president, Bathabile Dlamini (the fake minister), are lined up against, among others, ANC chief whip and former national spokesperson Jackson Mthembu, former ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga, a bunch of real stalwarts, and everyone who thinks Cyril Ramaphosa would make a fine president. (Call them the fake saviours.)

The latter bunch are asking for a consultative conference to determine the future of the ANC.

The former bunch are not.

Indeed, Zuma’s camp is probably heartened by the fact that, as with all literature, “State of Capture” is open to any number of interpretations: some of its more baroque flourishes seem a little, well, too baroque. So here’s what ends up happening: the Hawks insist that they have desperately been trying to contact former minister/current whistle-blower Vytjie Mentor, in order to hear her version of the now ubiquitous “The Guptas offered me a job!” storyline. But in the age of blanket surveillance, satellite cellphone tracking, sniffer dogs, social media, and 24-hours news coverage, they’ve been unable to track her down.

Mentor, the wily genius, has apparently been hiding in plain sight. “They are lying,” she told the Sunday Times. “They know where I livetheir advocate was here to take a statement, after alland the very phone number on which you just reached me is on the statement.”

It does seem like we’re dealing with morons here. The sort of morons who seem uninterested in the fact that, as the Guptas’ ex-driver related to reporters at the Sunday Times, Brian Molefe visited the compound prior to his appointment as CEO at Transnet. They are likewise unfazed by Jimmy Manyi’s visit in early 2011 (shortly before he became CEO of Government Communications and Information Systems.) And they couldn’t care less that Des van Rooyen basically lived there before he was anointed as finance minister in Nhlanhla Nene’s stead, back during those terrible few days last December.

(They don’t care about these slam dunks by amaBhungane either: R587m in six hours – how Eskom paid for Gupta mine, and State Capture – The Guptas and the R250-million “kickback laundry” unpacked in full, published recently in Daily Maverick. Nothing to see here, move along.ED)

The Hawks, however, aren’t bad at their job in the same way that you’re bad at your job: their fuck-ups sure look like part of the plan. That plan, such as it is, constitutes sowing as much high-grade chaos as possible, so that eventually their marks either a) crack and confess to something, anything, b) flee to the private sector, c) check into an insane asylum, or d) all of the above. The country’s highest-profile crime fighters have been reduced a squad of shakedown artistsa ganglet of minor thugs with the power to harass the country into submission.

Which, I suppose, goes some ways in explaining the rationale behind the latest Gordhan debacle.


A reasonable thing to ask when you’re threatened with arrest iswhat law did I break?

Under normal circumstances, a charge will be proffered by the arresting officers, and said charge will initiate a legal process. But if the folks arresting you can’t or won’t tell you why they’re repeatedly Tazing your ass, you’re probably in North Korea, Zimbabwe, or driving while black in the United States of America.

Indeed, back in May, when the nonsense regarding Gordhan first broke, it was a national sport trying to figure out which law the minister was supposed to have defiled. A list of 27 questions was sent to him via his legal representatives, asking him to explain certain activities related to his time as head of the South African Revenue Service (SARS). In particular, the questions pointed to his having overseen the set-up of a “rogue” intelligence unit, another of our many shakedown outfits.

The minister’s baffled reply can basically be whittled down to: WTF?

But see, there is a wrinkle to this story. As Ranjeni Munusamy noted in these pages, back in 2001 a meeting between former and current officials was held in the Intelligence Academy in Mafikeng. The whole thing was designed as a training course for the intelligence heads, all of whom were tripping over each other in their attempts to achieve nothing with the greatest amount of inefficiency.

And who addressed this meeting but none other than deputy president Jacob Zuma, an ex-intelligence hack himself from his MK days. He’s the one who spoke to all the intelligence heads; he’s the one who suggested streamlining the intelligence operations, and that there should be better co-operation between the various intel agencies.

Now, former SARS deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay and other representatives from institution happened to be at that meeting. And this address, they claim, was where the idea for SARS developing its own sleuthing unit came from.

In other words, no one less than Jacob Zuma was the catalyst behind the weaponising of SARS.

Seeing as no one has accused Gordhan of doing any actual spy-vs-spy shit, his crime, it seems, is having established a unit that Jacob Zuma encouraged him to establish in the first place.

Did Gordhan break the National Strategic Intelligence Act? Now that’s a super serious infraction. But that’s not what he’s been charged with, and there seems no possible way that a case of that nature could stick.

Thankfully, several weeks ago Shaun Abrahams performed a workable impression of Clint Eastwood, and growled that, “the days of disrespecting the NPA are over”. It’s still a little difficult, however, to assess how this newfound respect has translated into action. I’m thinking aloud here, but I don’t think anyone has had their ass kicked as hard and as thoroughly as Abrahams has over the past several weeks. In early October, he called a press conference to announce that he was charging Gordhan and two former colleagues with fraud and theft. Twenty days later, he called a press conference to announce that he was dropping the charges. Anyone with a shred of humility would have committed harakiri on live television.

Not Shaun Abrahams.

Now, he’s back for another round of a whack-a-mole, a game at which he sucks profoundly. What’s more, as with everything in this administration, once you start futzing with the plumbing, everyone tends to get washed away with the sewerage.


Which is another way of saying that this is a sad story.

There are many, many gaps in the Public Protector’s reportit does nothing to make the true scope of the rot any clearer. (What’s more, its cover image appears to have been lifted from a piece of shitty Being John Malkovich fan art. Which is appropriate, I suppose, if the intent was to be insanely, deeply meta.) The rot goes so, so deepdeeper, it appears, than any of us can fully appreciate.

One thing we should probably appreciate is that as an average, or even as a below average South African, we are without champions. The businesses and banks coming out in support of the current finance minister are not your friends: they peddle influence in their own dangerous ways. They lobby, cajole, bully, buythey just do so with old school aplomb, rather than with new school crassness. The cadres lining up against Zuma, silent for so long, are bleating because of political expediency: they’re hedging, and who can blame them?

But one thing Madonsela’s report has certainly done is nudged her finest literary creationPresident Jacob Zumafurther towards a literary finale. He is locked in an existential battle to avoid both prison and penury, and she has helped us all get closer to the final, bloody act.

As far as endings go, don’t count Jacob Zuma out. He will chase Gordhan into another dimension if he has to, consequences be damned. (That downgrade? Brace yourself.) He will use every dilatory tactic known to the legal profession in order to stall the formation of the judicial committee of enquiry that was mandated in the “State of Capture” report. He will swing wildly and often, and a cardboard stage sword will vanquish his opposition with a billion paper-cutsgiving up is not an option.

The truly terrible thing is that, if Zuma goes, we’ll be so bloodied and broken that we won’t have the energy to brace for what comes next. Because if Thuli’s reports were real literature, we’d understand that Zuma and the Guptas were metaphors for a state and a system so captured by competing interests that fight against “capture” is itself a form of capture. It opens MC Escher puzzle-like onto another trap, and then another, and then another, and the next set of thugs find themselves secure in our discomfort. DM

Photo: President Jacob Zuma is seen during a visit to the Kwanyamazane township with the ANC’s 102nd birthday celebrations in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, Wednesday, 8 January 2014. Picture: SAPA stringer


Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted