These days you are not a proper ex-president if you do not have your own foundation, although some, like President Jacob Zuma, got one before he even stepped down. Now, however, he is unhappy with their politics. By CARIEN DU PLESSIS.
The last thing President Jacob Zuma needs in his home province is division, so he made sure to let it be known that a new foundation launched by a councillor in Pietermaritzburg should not be a political tool.
The Truman Magubane Family Foundation was set up by the Msunduzi Municipality’s chief whip, who shared a cell with former president Kgalema Motlanthe on Robben Island, where Magubane spent 15 years.
In his keynote address Zuma said – according to City Press – that he hoped the foundation “will not be built to do politics”. He continued: “We have too many challenges and we need structures by influential names to help work on solutions to the country’s problems.”
The foundation, it seems, is setting out to promote the culture of reading among young people – a founding principle Zuma hoped it would stick to.
“Because you are one of us we will not allow this foundation to be invaded by individuals that want to criticise our organisation, not while we are still alive,” said Zuma.
Zuma’s caution might have had something to do with the fact that Magubane had spent 15 years on Robben Island and shared a cell during that time with former deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe. Motlanthe has been critical of Zuma.
Or maybe this comment was directed at the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, which has in the past few months, following his death, become a centre of gravity for the anti-Zuma civic movement.
It has also become a tool to strengthen Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign.
As it happened, earlier on Saturday, Ramaphosa spoke at an Ahmed Kathrada Foundation event in Kathrada’s home town of Schweizer-Reneke.
Photo: Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the launch of the National Programme of Tribute for the late anti-apartheid struggle veteran Ahmed Kathrada at Rosherville Park in Schweizer-Reneke, North West Province. (GCIS)
There he again lashed out at state capture and corruption – code names for everything Zuma is doing wrong as president. “We will not be able to comprehensively root out corruption unless we are united, unless all of us bring our wisdom to bear to make sure that we cleanse our country, we cleanse our movement of all these things.”
Zuma would have interpreted this as an attack on him – which he in his speech framed as an attack against the whole movement because, of course, he has become the movement by virtue of having been elected its president.
The foundation now also plans to have a programme running right through August – when it is Kathrada’s birthday – to Heritage Day in September, which is conveniently close to the party’s December conference.
There’s a history to Ramaphosa’s criticism. Not too long ago, shortly after Zuma’s last and very controversial, many say irrational, Cabinet reshuffle, the foundations of three ex-presidents – Thabo Mbeki, Nelson Mandela and Kgalema Motlanthe – called on Zuma to step down. Kathrada made much the same call in a letter written earlier – the same letter that later, at his funeral, was quoted by Motlanthe.
The foundations also in the past have stepped in where there are leadership gaps at the top. In 2016, for instance, the foundations hosted a summit about racism after the issue had become a topic of much heated debate and a heated campaign issue in the local government elections.
Zuma has, however, refused to heed to the calls of these former presidents. It is unlikely that he would do so in future, because his stated beliefs are that he had been put there by ANC branches and hence could only be removed by them.
Also, he has of late not been taking kindly to advice from party veterans and stalwarts anyway – remember that stinging opening speech at the ANC’s policy conference at Nasrec at the end of last month?
This, however, didn’t mean the veterans’ call had no effect. Zuma must be concerned about what these utterances are doing to his legacy and his support base – and by extension the waning chances of his chosen successor, former African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, to be elected president of the ANC in December.
He must also be concerned about Ramaphosa using the political weight of the foundations to rally support for his presidential bid.
The stalwarts are a little more difficult to dismiss than, say, opposition political parties, who are out to destroy the ANC because they want to grab its power and effect regime change, as routinely happens in democracies.
They are also more credible than NGOs, which, according to the ANC, are funded from outside South Africa and are aiming to destabilise the country.
Former presidents actually have a proven support base – otherwise they wouldn’t have made it to the top – and they can hardly be said to represent foreign interests.
Zuma, however, already has something in common with the former presidents: he, too, has his own foundation.
The JG Zuma Foundation – born out of the Jacob Zuma Reconstruction and Development Programme Educational Trust, established in 1995 – was registered in 2008 and formally launched in 2010. The website has since expired and the last activity recorded on its Facebook page was a donation of R500,000 made to the Catholic Church in March 2015 for a Zulu translation of the Bible. It’s not clear whether this has, as yet, yielded an actual Zulu translation of the Bible, but it could just be that this is a long-term project too.
The foundation also enabled Zuma, in his private capacity away from government, to hand over emergency homes to people, grant study bursaries to youngsters, hold soccer days in Eshowe in KwaZulu-Natal and play an annual chess game with young people.
These may not seem very political, but the activities have helped to boost his reputation in places where his popularity was beginning to wane.
The one snag about these foundations is that there is no forced disclosure of the names of the donors.
With South African Airways chairperson Dudu Myeni last listed as the JG Zuma Foundation’s executive chairperson, it’s perhaps better that Zuma isn’t asking other foundations about their donors – in case this would mean that he’d have to disclose his. DM
Main photo: President Jacob Zuma addressing the launch of the Truman Magubane Family Foundation in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal. The foundation which Named after its founder and Grand Patron Mr Truman Magubane, 22/07/2017 (Elmond Jiyane/GCIS)