This is a week in which former president Jacob Zuma has been compared both to Pan-Africanist Congress founder Robert Sobukwe and apartheid-era president PW Botha. In both cases, the analogies were drawn by Zuma’s supporters, and stemmed from Zuma’s ongoing refusal to cooperate with the Zondo Commission.
“Just like the generation of Robert Sobukwe that defied apartheid unjust laws imposed on them, former President Zuma has taken it upon himself to defy all unjust court rulings imposed on him,” trumpeted #FeesMustFall activist Bonginkosi Khanyile on Twitter.
“He has taken the most radical and militant stance exactly like Sobukwe during his times.”
Exactly like Sobukwe.
Khanyile, who is under house arrest in Durban as a result of public violence convictions sustained during student protests in 2016, also bragged that JZ would be paying him a personal visit on Wednesday.
It is hard to see why Zuma would bother, particularly in these days of plague and pestilence, and especially since he claimed in his most recent public statement to have been receiving an “overwhelming groundswell of messages of support” – but perhaps the former president is deeply and primarily moved by ingratiating tweets from marginal protest figures.
Or perhaps the visit would be more transactional in nature. As an ANC veteran told me this week: “There is still money around Zuma.”
How else to explain the undying loyalty to JZ of figures like Carl Niehaus, a man who literally sold off his own parents’ funerals to make a quick buck?
The revelations spewing out of the Zondo Commission last week give some idea of where that money has come from in the past, with the State Security Agency used as a piggy-bank to fortify Zuma’s crumbling fiefdom. Little wonder that the former president has declared himself positively allergic to setting foot before that inquiry, in a quite exhausting seven-page statement in which he on several occasions refers to himself in the third person.
“The Commission into Allegations of State Capture [sic] can expect no further cooperation from me in any of their processes going forward,” declared Zuma, exactly like a young Robert Sobukwe.
“I do not fear being arrested. I do not fear being convicted nor do I fear being incarcerated,” continued Zuma, which seems a very psychologically healthy approach to his almost certain future.
It was this trifling matter on which journalists wished to hear ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule’s views on Wednesday, prompting his evident displeasure.
Asked if Zuma would be suspended from the ANC for defying judicial process, Magashule replied: “Why should we suspend a person who believes in what he believes in? Why should we call him into order when he’s done nothing wrong?”
It was clearly not a huge leap of imaginative empathy for Magashule to take this stance on Zuma’s behalf, since he is in something of a rickety little boat himself when it comes to his standing within the ANC and pending criminal charges.
The question, “Why should we suspend a person who believes in what he believes in?” is particularly telling, since it suggests JZ is at risk of having his party membership snatched away for leaving out money for the Tooth Fairy or something. In reality, and it is truly devastating that this should need to be spelt out, but here it is: one cannot choose not to believe in laws.
Or rather, one can, but one should not then be standing open-mouthed with confusion when the very real police come to take one to the very real court.
Magashule has some form in this department: recall how he ran around last year telling everyone who would listen, including the ANC’s Top Six, that he was to be arrested for “failing to execute oversight” while Free State premier – which brings to mind a sheepish parliamentarian caught trawling TikTok during a committee meeting.
How peculiar, then, when it emerged in court that Magashule was to face 21 charges of corruption and fraud, theft and money laundering. All of which sounds a teeny bit more serious than his imaginary oversight offence.
But back to Magashule defending Zuma this week, in the course of which he said the following:
“We will one day talk about what is happening in South Africa. There are many wrong things which are happening in this country today. We can go to the days of the TRC [Truth and Reconciliation Commission], where Botha [apartheid-era president PW Botha] refused to go to the TRC and nobody said anything.”
BOOM! Except that didn’t sound quite right. I took a quick foray back into the mists of 1998, and found this report from August 22:
“The Truth and Reconciliation Commission drew first blood yesterday in its political battle against the former South African president, Mr P.W. Botha. The octogenarian Afrikaner leader was found guilty of contempt for refusing to heed subpoenas to appear before it.”
Botha was fined R10,000 or a year’s imprisonment, the report continues, and sentenced to a further 12 months’ imprisonment, suspended for five years, for ignoring TRC summonses.
“On the penultimate day of the trial, his lawyers presented Mr Botha’s case for refusing to heed subpoenas.
“‘The commission was clearly prejudiced against the accused,’ his lawyer told the court.”
Parallels-wise, this is sledgehammer stuff. Comparisons between apartheid and democratic governance are odious, but we have Magashule to blame for leading us down this grim path.
The figures coalescing around Zuma now have several obvious things in common. They have either tangled with the criminal justice system in the past and come off worst (Khanyile), or can expect this fate for themselves in the not too distant future (Magashule). Alternatively, they have been sucking from the Zuma teat (I apologise) for so long that there simply are no further options for them (Niehaus).
In all cases, these are people rapidly running out of road. And the coalition of the wounded gathered around Zuma provides a context in which the phrase “guilty by association”, normally used to describe situations of injustice, may quite literally be true. DM
Ed Note: Later on Wednesday, this exchange happened on Twitter between Jacob “Robert Sobukwe’ Zuma and Julius “#PayBackTheMoney” Malema. The Zuma avoiding court&Zondo saga will obviously not be ending any time soon:
Donald Trump is the oldest president to be elected to a first term in office. The sentient naartjie is 70-years-old.
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