Why are so many people eager to fall on their spears for Jacob Zuma?

Why are so many people eager to fall on their spears for Jacob Zuma?
A campaign poster for the governing African National Congress (ANC) covers the side of a building, 18 April 2009, in downtown Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: John Moore / Getty Images)

What I find puzzling is how such a tainted political figure attracts so much support. How do Zuma’s supporters not understand the consequences of corruption? How do they not see that they’re the ones who will continue to suffer if we don’t elect honest leaders who prioritise the upliftment of disadvantaged people?

Dear DM168 readers,

There are a few stories in the newspaper this week that are grating my carrot. Let’s start with our brilliant lead story by Daily Maverick associate editor Marianne Thamm. It’s about Jacob Zuma’s fallen: the many sycophants who sacrificed their careers, reputations and lives for the former president who is said to have enabled, encouraged and benefited from an era of State Capture from which our country will take a long time to recover.

Thamm’s story is essential reading. It examines the many enablers who did whatever they could – and often broke the law – to help Zuma, whose recently launched uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK) party is creating new legions of loyalists who are now threatening violence and anarchy if the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) doesn’t allow Zuma to contest the elections.

I understand the support for Zuma from the dodgy businesspeople who benefited from corruption during his tenure. What I find puzzling is how such a tainted political figure attracts so much support from the very people who suffered because of that corruption during his tenure.

I understand the anger of the millions of poor South Africans whose lives have only worsened since the dawn of our democracy, but I don’t understand their support for the man who has been placed at the centre of the kleptocracy that has robbed this country and its people of billions of rands that would have benefited the poor.

How do Zuma’s supporters not understand the consequences of corruption? How do they not see that they’re the ones who will continue to suffer if we don’t elect honest leaders who prioritise the upliftment of disadvantaged people?

I’m not suggesting that poverty in South Africa is Zuma’s fault or that he’s to blame for everything that has gone wrong in the past 30 years. I know it’s going to take a long time to undo apartheid’s legacy.

I also know that the private sector could have done much more since 1994 to invest in building local expertise and manufacturing instead of following the American way of sourcing cheap goods and labour in exploitative Asian markets, and making a killing (in so many ways) with their massive mark-ups.

There is a lot that has gone wrong in the past 30 years that has contributed to the continued repression of millions of South Africans. But it is an undeniable fact that corruption has played a significantly destructive role in the lack of service delivery and social development, both of which are crucial in a developing country, particularly one that is recovering from hundreds of years of systematic discrimination.

That hundreds of thousands of people want to vote for Zuma is mind-boggling and mildly terrifying as MK supporters issue threats such as this one being shared on X: “There will be riots like you’ve never seen in this country. There will be no elections.”

The other story that made me livid this week is about a girl in Nelson Mandela Bay who was gang-raped in a toilet at her school when she was 11 years old; it wasn’t the first time she had been raped. Two cousins had raped her on two separate occasions when she was eight and nine, and her family chose not to press charges both times.

Since the rape at school, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and panic disorder. Despite being a bright student before the gang rape, she failed Grade 10 and Grade 11. She is now 19 and the Eastern Cape Department of Education has finally admitted negligence and agreed to pay her R5-million.

In my opinion, the rape and gender-based violence in general are the corollary of corruption. Maybe, if hundreds of billions of rands hadn’t been lost to State Capture, a national grassroots campaign could have been funded to focus on teaching boys and men to be kinder to girls and women – and themselves.

The stories in this week’s DM168 provide much food for thought on a range of topics, from the daily struggles of black commuters (page 10) to why alpha male politics is bad for your health (page 21) and how Chinese chemists changing the formula for fibreglass has resulted in South Africa’s platinum group metals industry experiencing massive losses (page 31).

There’s much more in your favourite weekly newspaper, which is now also available across the Eastern Cape in major retail stores.

DM168 Editor Heather Robertson is back next week, so please send your thoughts to her at [email protected]

Yours in defence of truth,


This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Acwam 58 says:

    South Africa, renowned both far and wide,
    For politics and little else beside.
    – Roy Campbell (1901-1957)
    Have these (anc) clowns not learnt a single thing?

  • ST ST says:

    A question for psychologists and social scientists along with similar questions: why so many people want Trump including minorities and women, when some countries are reeling from autocratic corrupt regimes…why do people willingly give up their right to elect astute, capable, ethical leaders. My guesses (not mutually exclusive):

    1. Cult culture
    2. Ignorance
    3. Misinformation
    4. Brainwashing
    5. Herd mentality
    6. Falling for charisma
    7. Misguided desire for sovereignty
    8. Ingrained acceptance of lower status against unquestioned power of ‘leaders
    9. KZN power gap after loss of King Zwelithini and Minister Buthelezi

    The first 7 are said to have likely led to Brexit and Trumpism and maybe now ‘Zumasim’. It would be interesting to know more about Zuma supporters (not just being Zulu) for better understanding, not to prejudice

  • Tim Bester says:

    ‘They’ (the Zulus) vote for Zuma because he is 100% Zulu.

  • Lyle Ferrett says:

    There is a new Zulu chief in town and his name is Jacob Zuma. He’s a politician turned uncrowned king.

  • Troy Marshall says:

    Narrow minded people are not thinkers. Narrow minded people are suspicious of others who are not like them. Narrow minded people are susceptible to populist speakers who tell them what they want to hear. Narrow minded people will believe the “populist” when the populist accuses critics of telling lies.
    This is not a Zulu thing. Narrow minded people are everywhere, though it seems to me a certain Western power has more than it’s fair share.

  • Colin Braude says:

    Interesting how the ANC is busy deflecting again.

    No amount of spin can hide that the state capture, looting, racecarding, bellpottingering, covers-up and state failure is the work of the *entire* ANC (with its current president JZ783’s deputy) and the ANC caucus voted down eight motions of no confidence in Zuma.

    The ANC loves to blame “the previous administration” (ie of Mbeki, of Zuma and, no doubt after HE is recalled, of Ramaphosa)

    The Corruptheid regime reprises the Apartheid regime in many ways (As Marx said: history repeats itself). Just as the latter’s efforts to reform Apartheid and get rid of Petty Apartheid failed, the former’s efforts at New Dawn and eliminating Petty Corruptheid will fail and lead to further state failure & SOE bankruptcies.

  • John P says:

    “apartheid’s legacy” “hundreds of years of systematic discrimination”

    The ANC have had an entire generation do something positive about this and have achieved basically nothing.

    • James P says:

      That is being too nice to them, to me it implies that they have maintained the status quo where in reality they have decimated the fabric of the country to nearly the point of no return. A human natural disaster if there ever was one.

  • David Walker says:

    Dear Editor. You make this sound like a recent phenomenon. Don’t forget that millions of South Africans voted Zuma and the ANC into power, not once but twice, even though ANC corruption was widely known. And they will continue to do so at the next election. The media have been far too critical of opposition parties and far too lenient on the ANC’s swathe of destruction through our society.

  • Lil Mars says:

    People have been kept ignorant and uninformed. They don’t know better. It’s tragic.

  • Johan Buys says:

    There are few things more dangerous than a vote.

    One consolation. The voters get what they deserve.

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