South Africa


Jacob Zuma’s long, humiliating journey into ignominious inconsequence

Jacob Zuma’s long, humiliating journey into ignominious inconsequence
Former president Jacob Zuma. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

This weekend’s speech by Jacob Zuma, just ahead of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s first formal response to the Zondo Commission findings, marks an important moment in his history: he now appears to have less political power than at any time since 1994, and he is close to being all but insignificant.

On Saturday, 22 October, just one day before President Cyril Ramaphosa was due to address the nation about his response to the findings of the Zondo Commission, Jacob Zuma gave a public address in Sandton.

The former president’s “national address” was first scheduled for earlier in the week, then for Friday afternoon. It finally took place on Saturday. No explanation for the delays was given and it suggests that he, and the people around him, are not competent enough to keep to their own deadlines.

In his delayed address, Zuma presented his own interpretations of reality that raise a large number of issues that could have an impact on various legal processes.

His claims expose a huge lack of consistency on issues relating to Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, the State Capture Commission, as well as to his own “medical condition”. The nature of his public appearance on its own may raise questions about the competence of the people around him. 

In short, this “national address” may have negative repercussions for him. And, the fact that he is speaking publicly may be an indication of weakness, indicating that he felt he needed to do something to influence certain processes.

If he had maintained his silence, Zuma may have been able to create some kind of mystique, an illusion of power. Each time he speaks in public, or answers questions, that mirage is dramatically weakened.

To many a citizen, his grievance-filled tirade did not imply the dignity that the status of “former president” confers. Instead, it presented just another politician making a statement based on a dubious interpretation of well-known facts. 

Zuma’s statement, when it was made, was startling for many reasons, including his public attack on current ANC leader, Cyril Ramaphosa. Zuma claimed, with reference to the Phala Phala scandal, that “your President has committed treason. No President should conduct private business while in office. Our country’s problems are too big for a President who is busy hustling on the side.”

He also claimed that the media had ignored the Phala Phala scandal and contrasted its treatment with the coverage of the Nkandla scandal when he was president.

It is simply not true that the media has ignored Phala Phala. It has been a lead story in this publication, and most others, many, many times. There has been strong criticism of Ramaphosa’s conduct in this matter, particularly of his refusal to answer public questions about the US dollars stolen from his home.

But Zuma’s comments also appear to completely ignore his own track record in office. He has still not adequately explained why he fired Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister in 2015, or why Nene was never appointed to the Brics Bank, as he had promised.

He has also never answered questions on the record about his relationship with the Guptas, or how it came to be that they were able to steal so much from the government while he was in office.

If it is the case that Ramaphosa has committed “treason” for having a side hustle, how would one define the deliberate sabotage that Zuma committed at the SA Revenue Service, along with consultancy Bain & Company?

Also, Zuma claims that Ramaphosa is wrong to have another source of income. But what about, for example, the money he received from a security company when he was president in 2009? 

Zuma used his speech to attack Zondo from multiple angles, claiming that “Justice Zondo should know the constitutional requirements for the establishment of a commission of inquiry. This too was ignored, and I now know why he ignored a serious charge to the unlawfulness of his appointment as the chair of the commission of inquiry.”

Zuma appears to be saying that Zondo should not have accepted the appointment as chair of the commission.

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But Zuma is the very person who appointed him.

Was he suggesting that Zondo should not have accepted the appointment that he, Zuma himself, made? 

While Zuma lamented Zondo’s supposed bias, he still did not explain why he first decided to testify at the commission, only to withdraw from it just as questions were about to get tough.

Nor did he explain why, despite his sharp criticism of Zondo, he has appealed to the court Zondo leads to try — once again — to have Billy Downer removed as the lead prosecutor against him.

Slightly oddly, Zuma decided to discuss Eskom, claiming that he had made sure there would be no load shedding through his appointment of Brian Molefe and Matshela Koko.

Again, there is a complete ignorance of the facts.

The Zondo Commission made findings against both Molefe and Koko, and said they should face investigations for their role in the looting of the state-owned enterprise.

Eskom: Zuma, Molefe, Koko and Singh branded key players in State Capture 

Zuma also claimed that he wanted to introduce nuclear energy into the mix as a viable and sustainable way to ensure a reliable energy supply. He also claimed that foreign interests are controlling his enemies.

This appears to ignore that the nuclear deal he wanted to sign was with Russia, and may have given a single foreign country much power over our electricity system.

It also appears that Zuma may have contradicted himself at this same public event. In his prepared statement, he declared: “My medical situation remains a concern to me and requires constant monitoring. I have, however, resolved that I will live the remaining years of my life confidently and courageously.”

Later, a journalist asked Zuma about making himself available to be chair of the ANC, “given your advanced age and your health matter…”

Zuma interrupted the question, teasing the journalist by asking if they were a doctor, or whether they had just become an instant doctor. Then he said: “The ANC has no age my brother. Don’t even ask me. There’s no age. If you are a member and the members say, ‘Perform’, there is no age.”

The journalist tried again: “What about your health?”

Zuma replied, in a joking tone: “What’s wrong with my health? What’s wrong with the health, looking at me? Am I in a bed, lying in a hospital? I’m just checking. We are asking a very funny question. Why about my health? Very unusual question.”

This answer may have legal ramifications.

Zuma has instituted a private prosecution against both Downer and the legal journalist Karyn Maughan. At the centre of his claim is that Downer is responsible for passing information about his health condition to Maughan, in contravention of the NPA Act. But their lawyers may now want the court to first establish if there is indeed a medical condition to disclose in the first place.

Certainly, Zuma’s answer suggests that there is no “medical condition” that imminently endangers his life. No matter what the truth is, he is certainly trying to have his cake and eat it.

This may also have ramifications for his medical parole appeal. It is possible that his answer will be used by those who believe it was illegally granted to him by former Correctional Services Commission head Arthur Fraser.

It is also possible that Zuma’s comment that Ramaphosa is guilty of “treason” could lead to further action from the ANC. Julius Malema was once suspended from ANC activities for saying: “We have seen, under President Zuma, democracy being replaced with dictatorship.”

Certainly, Zuma’s comments about Ramaphosa appear to be of similar gravity. The ANC may itself have to discipline Zuma for this comment.

Zuma was perhaps not the only person at his event who is guilty of inconsistency. Sitting next to him while he was speaking was the advocate representing him, Dali Mpofu.

While Zuma spoke of foreign forces who wanted him removed, some on Twitter noted a strange irony. Mpofu himself, speaking as chair of the EFF at the time, told the SABC in the hours before Zuma resigned in 2018, that: “There is no South African who is sane upstairs who wants to listen to Zuma delivering the State Of the Nation Address when it’s clear he is going. The question is when is he going to go.” He had said previously that Zuma must go.

Although Zuma’s supporters will no doubt cling to every word he uttered this weekend, and his critics will simply write off the performance as another incidence of Zuma not giving truthful, or substantive, answers to questions, the real issue is whether Zuma moved the needle with this address.

So far the evidence is that he did not.

For most of his political career, Zuma’s political power base has been the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal. After his speech, the ANC in that province published a statement. Referring to all of the public comments by former presidents over the weekend (Kgalema Motlanthe and Thabo Mbeki also made critical comments about the government on Saturday), the province said: “We respectfully request our leaders to exercise restraint.”

Then, addressing Zuma’s comments directly, it said: “No court of law has ever found President Jacob Zuma corrupt for his involvement in the arms deal. Equally, no court of law has ever found President Cyril Ramaphosa corrupt in Phala Phala.”

This appears to be a very careful, but direct, rebuke of Zuma’s statement. And may be the most important sign that Zuma’s address and comments did nothing to advance his cause.

It appears his attempt to increase his political support — either to head off the possible consequences of the Zondo Commission findings, the corruption charges he faces, or to again occupy a position in the ANC — has simply failed.

If it is the case that this event was another signal that Zuma is fast losing political power, there may now be indications that his slide into apparent political insignificance is going to be long, slow and humiliating. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Laurence Erasmus says:

    Hopefully Zuma’s “slide into apparent political insignificance” will include wearing an orange overall.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Agreed, spent force. Only opens his mouth to keep himself in the press. Please, let’s draw a line under JZ and move on. Many more pressing issues need commentary.

  • Ian Gwilt says:

    good read
    but the miscreants, fools and twittrtati who peddle and believe his crap will not be swayed by either sound logic or the truth.

  • Mike Hagemann says:

    Good insights, Stephen. Watching JZ stumble his way through the script was excruciating. Obviously Mzwanele Manyi didn’t get the memo – “no big words for Msholozi” 🤣

  • Jacki McInnes says:

    There is absolutely no “ignorance of the facts” wrt Zuma. He’s fully aware of the status quo that pertains to him, and it’s dire. Manipulation of public sentiment is his game. On the upside, however, the public has mostly moved on from this sad-sack, nasty little creep. Retribution is what most of us want, he knows it, and he may even be a little scared. Uugh.

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    Nothing wrong with his health? if Correctional Services were doing their job he should be back in Jail now to serve out his 15 months.

  • Sydney Kaye says:

    To the comment editor.
    The DM comment system is remarkedly unsuccessful because (1) any immediacy is lost by delayed publication (2) the poster has no way of knowing if his comment had been published or if there has been any reader/ journalist negative or positive reaction or interaction to it.
    My suggestion is to publish every comment and wait for a complaint if any, and to subscribe to one of the services such as disqus that minutia comments, or organise that yourselves. I coukd never understand why you initiated this patronizing system because I had never seen any objectionable comment before you did so.

    • gorgee beattie says:

      Hello Sidney Kaye (and DM)
      Your comments are spot on!
      Is the “comment system” a form of censorship?

    • Steve Stevens says:

      It would make sense to flip the display order…the latest comment first

    • Paddy Ross says:

      I agree with your comment. I just wish DM would trust their supposedly appreciated Insiders to monitor the comments themselves i.e. publish when posted but add an ability for Insiders to “report” inappropriate comments.

    • Peter Holmes says:

      I totally agree. I complained to DM via an e-mail and got an automated response along the lines of “our team of two is working hard to respond to all e-mails. Two weeks later, nothing. By the way, when I post a comment, I simply jump throughthe hoop by pressing the green “approve” button three times; I never actually read the comments which the DM is asking me to “peer review”.

    • Hermann Funk says:

      My sentiments too.

  • Stef Viljoen Viljoen says:

    Ai. I did not like this article. Probably factually accurate but the observations by the author seemed a bit mundane? I agree with Dennis Bailey, below. The only news regarding Zuma I would like to hear is him being locked up.

  • Malcolm McManus says:

    The only bigger dimwits than Zuma, are the people who voted for the ANC to remain in power to give him the opportunity to become president in the first place. They deserve what they get.

    • Jane Crankshaw says:

      That is true but we don’t deserve to get what they deserve as well!
      I believe that only personal and corporate taxpayers should get to vote. That way the freeloaders, thieves and politically connected are forced to face reality.

  • Rg Bolleurs says:

    How this man rose to be president of a country is just mind boggling until you realise he was the tool to implement state capture and that the anc and state capture are inseparable. And state capture is by no means over.

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


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