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The Zuma quagmire: ANC’s Polokwane chickens come home...

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The Zuma quagmire: ANC’s Polokwane chickens come home to roost


Richard Nethononda is an associate professor of cardiology at the University of the Witwatersrand. He writes in his personal capacity.

Back in 2008, it already did not make sense to me how an individual like Jacob Zuma, who was clearly so disrespectful of the laws of our country and Constitution, could be expected one day to uphold and defend those laws if he became president.

In 2008, just before the ANC’s Polokwane conference, I wrote an opinion piece in City Press titled “Vote for Order – Zuma can’t be entrusted with the presidency but Motlanthe can”. This was my attempt to raise concern about the possibility of the then deputy president Jacob Zuma contesting for the presidency without having been pronounced innocent by the courts on criminal charges of corruption, fraud, money laundering and tax evasion. Zuma had previously and quite appropriately been fired by President Thabo Mbeki after a high court found him to have a “generally corrupt relationship with a certain Mr Schabir Shaik”.

Furthermore, he had previously been charged with raping a friend’s daughter but was acquitted, as the court found the accuser to be an unreliable witness. However, during his rape trial Zuma made some chilling but revealing remarks that, for a country battling the scourge of women abuse and HIV, should have immediately disqualified him for any official government position, let alone the highest office in the land.

That aside, I struggled to comprehend how a person with such a track record and facing such serious criminal charges could be allowed to contest for the presidency. At the least, he should first clear his name through our court processes before being allowed to contest for the presidency – I thought.

While using every platform to preach that he would like to have his day in court, behind the scenes and to the contrary, Zuma used every trick in the book to evade appearing in court to answer to the charges against him. It did not make sense to me how an individual clearly so disrespectful of the laws of the country and its Constitution could be expected one day to uphold and defend those laws.

That alarm fell on deaf ears as Zuma had strong allies in powerful places. Then general secretary of Cosatu, Zwelinzima Vavi, described Zuma’s ascendancy to power as being like an unstoppable tsunami. SACP General Secretary Blade Nzimande chastised the media and political analysts for insulting Zuma and attempting to choose a president for the country. A certain Julius Malema vowed to kill or die for Zuma.

So strong was the tsunami that even Kgalema Motlanthe testified that “Cde Msholozi was someone we all love and trust”. He had known and worked with him for over 20 years. Prior to that and at the time around his rape trial, others from the ANC Women’s League, such as Madam Nomvula Mokonyane, had vowed to defend Zuma with their rear body parts.

So, Jacob Zuma, the fugitive from justice, could, as he once proclaimed himself, “sleep peacefully”,  knowing that he had the support of everybody that mattered both within the ruling party and its alliance partners.

What was left was for a certain Mokotedi Mpshe, who was acting head of the National Prosecuting Authority, to finally drop the charges against Zuma in April 2009. He had found that one of the investigators, Leonard McCarthy, had conspired with the former head of the NPA, Bulelani Ngcuka, to bring the charges against Zuma in the weeks leading to the ANC elective conference perhaps to destabilise his campaign for the ANC presidency. In doing so, Mpshe contended, both McCarthy and Ngcuka had abused due process and so the charges had to be dropped, despite there being a strong case for Zuma to answer to.

That decision by Mpshe to drop the charges against Zuma has recently been found by a full Bench of the North Gauteng High Court to have been irrational and that the “alleged abuse of process” should have been decided upon by the courts instead of being done by him. This followed a protracted court battle by the DA. Hopefully Cde Msholozi, like any other citizen, will have his day in court to answer to these charges.

Once cleared by Mpshe, the road to the Union Buildings by Zuma was completely bump-free. Zuma was now ANC president, the troublesome Scorpions had been disbanded and there were no imminent threats to his ascendency to power.

In Sepedi there is an idiomatic expression, “Nkwe a e tshentshi mabala.” Directly translated, it means, “A leopard does not change its colours.” So, once enthroned, now President Zuma of the Republic of South Africa could only be himself.

Over the ensuing eight years, as we have learnt from the Zondo Commission, Zuma appointed pliable people into ministerial positions who would serve his personal agenda and that of his close family and friends. Within departments, ministers and senior public officials deliberately tampered with internal processes to enable misappropriation of public funds. SOE board appointees were used to cripple internal fiduciary compliance processes in order to serve a corrupt agenda instead of the interests of South African citizens.

Like the master chess player he is, Msholozi knew that in order to “stay safe” he also had to cripple law enforcement agencies, and it appears from the evidence at the Zondo Commission that he did an excellent job at that.

What we now have is a weak police service, featherless Hawks that get dragged into bedroom squabbles and a defocused State Security Agency that has been repurposed to fight internal party-political battles.

So, our country’s capacity to fight crime and detect threats is seriously damaged, as we face the threat of a regional version of Boko Haram at our doorstep in the neighbouring country of Mozambique.  

Quite clearly, Zuma has something to answer for at the Zondo Commission, and like all other citizens he has to go and face the music. However, like a spoilt little child, Zuma has been made to believe that he is above the law, and is determined to resort to his old tricks to evade the State Capture Commission, using unfounded and flimsy reasons. In that process he also tries to humiliate a very humble and honourable public servant, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, who is simply trying to do his job.

Zuma is very keen to be arrested in order to politicise his personal wrongdoings in the hope that there would be some kind of a reprieve for him. After all, he is a special citizen, who is more equal than the rest of us commoners.

Senior members of the ANC and other political parties have said that his defiance of the Constitutional Court ruling is creating a constitutional crisis. My contention is that this is not a new crisis but rather a crisis that was created a few years ago when the ANC took a man facing all sorts of charges and made him their president and president of the country and we as citizens stood by and did nothing about it.

Indeed, one could argue that if Jacob Zuma did not respect the laws of the country before he became a president, what incentive is there for him to do so now when he is no longer a president? DM


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  • “Indeed, one could argue that if Jacob Zuma did not respect the laws of the country before he became a president, what incentive is there for him to do so now when he is no longer a president?”

    As you said earlier, a leopard does not change his spots. What I found unbelievable is the number of people who voted for the ANC despite knowing Zuma was in charge. Surely people could see the type of individual he was? I grew up in the 80s and when I was old enough to vote, the first time I voted I cast my vote for the ANC of Mandela and Mbeki. Then Zuma came along and I took my vote from the ANC. How could they do this? Where had their moral fiber gone? Again, Zuma should have taken the time to go to court to clear his name and once done, then by all means, aim for the presidency, but instead he abused his influence, power, and the people of this country, and look where we are now.

    At very least the rotten cancer of the ANC that was very present at Polokwane has now been exposed thanks to Zondo (and I think we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg). I still think many people will vote for the ANC despite all of us knowing what we do now, and it makes me just want to pack my bags and leave.

  • The lesson for SA is that beware of populists! They preach for the people /poor when in reality it is all for themselves. The Vavi’s, Malema’s, Nzimande’s etc. are still amongst us, no consequences for them for having foisted the rot and depravity on this country that has virtually bankrupted it. Will SA learn? I honestly doubt it as the masses are gullible, think on racial lines and are stuck in the past. We all knew that Zuma was rotten to the core yet he became president. What a disgrace – it has been and continues to be a curse on this land. He and his ilk HAVE to face the law and account for their corruption and theft. And beware, there is another equally obnoxious populist waiting in the wings – racist and bullying to boot. None other than the odious Malema .

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