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Durban - Major-General Bethuel Mondli Zuma, the man whose miscalculated appointment as Gauteng police commissioner left national police commissioner General Riah Phiyega red-faced, once protected the lives of former presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.
Phiyega withdrew the appointment after learning that Zuma had four charges, linked to drunk driving and defeating the ends of justice, pending against him in the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court.
He was arrested after an incident in Alexandra Road in 2008, and his trial resumes on Wednesday.
Sources, who have been close to the ANC since the 1980s, said Zuma, who is not related to President Jacob Zuma, loved the ANC and would do anything to protect its senior leaders.
He joined MK in 1985 and, a year later, was arrested for his political activities.
His career as a bodyguard started in 1988 when he protected ANC Midlands chairman Harry Gwala.
After a fallout with Gwala, Zuma was sent to Shell House in 1992 to protect Mandela and his former deputy, Walter Sisulu. He later became Mbeki’s bodyguard.
In 1998, Zuma appeared before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to seek amnesty for his part in the ANC headquarters Shell House massacre in 1994 when ANC security shot dead 19 IFP supporters.
Zuma grew up and joined the ANC in Imbali where he was involved in the United Democratic Front.
One source said his departure from Pietermaritzburg led to the breakdown of trust between ANC provincial leaders and former ANC Midlands secretary-general Sifiso Nkabinde.
“It was Nkabinde who influenced Gwala to get rid of Zuma, which left other leaders suspecting that Nkabinde did not want Gwala to have the tight security.
“Gwala had been classified as a high-risk leader because of the violence between the ANC and IFP,” said a source.
The source said the fallout came about after Zuma and another Gwala bodyguard, Sphiwe Mkhize, approached the late ANC senior leader Joe Nhlanhla, asking for extra protection for Gwala.
“They wanted an armoured vehicle and weapons. Nkabinde was furious as he felt that the two had overlooked him.”
Nkabinde, who was regarded as Gwala’s lieutenant and a self-confessed warlord, was expelled from the ANC in 1997 after being accused of being an apartheid spy.
Zuma’s former UDF comrades said he was passionate about the ANC and the Struggle.
“I was with him in the Struggle. We did a lot together.
“He was a very dedicated fellow. He was not even drinking then.
“I’m shocked and disappointed to learn that he is facing charges of drunk driving,” said another source.
All the sources said being Gauteng police commissioner would have been the “best reward” for him.
Police spokesman Solomon Mokgale said Zuma, who has not been disciplined for failing to disclose the charge against him, joined the police 20 years ago.
Mokgale said after his arrest in 2008, Zuma was promoted once from a brigadier and OR Tambo International Airport’s police station commander to being a major-general and national head of border policing.