Mistrust among top officials in the presidency has allegedly led to the departure of President Jacob Zuma’s special communications adviser, Zizi Kodwa.
Appointed in 2010 to rescue Zuma from what the presidency perceived as a media siege, Kodwa left the presidency this month to join the Gauteng Film Commission as manager for communications and marketing.
It is a less powerful position for a man who was once the strategic voice of the highest office in the land.
Zuma personally asked for Kodwa to move from Luthuli House to Mahlambandlopfu to take over communication shortly after the president’s sex scandal in 2010.
It was felt that his communication aides were failing to polish the president’s battered image following news of Zuma fathering a child out of the wedlock with Sonono Khoza.
Kodwa, an effective and charming communicator, was one of Zuma’s trusted lieutenants.
But the former youth league spokesman was apparently caught in the succession crossfire as his former comrades turned on each other, a government official said.
He refused to be named because he was not authorised to speak publicly.
This was after a fallout between Zuma and the expelled ANC Youth League president Julius Malema.
On the one hand, Kodwa’s former comrades – Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula and Malema – could not trust the spokesman of their nemesis. On the other hand, some in the presidency – including Zuma – apparently started being suspicious of Kodwa, who was still socially closer to the youth league circle.
Kodwa was often seen at the two former youth leaders’ functions at the time the president’s relationship with Malema and Mbalula was at its lowest ebb. At one stage, Kodwa was even suspected of leaking information from the presidency while the Malema-Mbalula circle also thought he was “a sell out”, according to a second source close to Kodwa and Mbalula.
The source said none of these suspicions could be proven, “but Zizi found it difficult to maintain the balance between his boss and his friends”.
The suspicions led to Zuma appointing former transport minister Mac Maharaj as presidential spokesman.
This effectively sidelined Kodwa, who – although brought in as adviser – was the communications chief for the president.
He initially created a bridge between the president, who was paranoid about journalists’ motives, and the media. Ironically, Kodwa was one of those who were instrumental in leading a pro-Zuma campaign against former president Thabo Mbeki.
This week Kodwa said he went into his job knowing that he wouldn’t “be loved by everyone”, without elaborating. “My conscience is clear. The person I worked for never had doubts,” he said.
He said he would help Zuma “as and when he wants me to”.
“I served him with loyalty and dedication. That still stands. We will support him as and when it is necessary. I thank him for appointing me. It is an honour because there are many South Africans who are better communicators and he chose Zizi. I thank him for that,” Kodwa said.
He said he could not respond to rumours and perception about being caught between Malema and Zuma.
Maharaj could not be drawn into the alleged mistrusts in the presidency.
“The simple issue is that as an adviser, he felt that his work was not fully stretching him and he got the position as marketing manager (at the film commission),” said Maharaj yesterday morning.
The Presidency announced that Kodwa quit his job at the beginning of this month while former defence minister Charles Nqakula, who was the president’s political adviser, had been appointed high commissioner to Mozambique. He will depart at the end of this month.
Nqakula was also never used effectively as a political adviser because he was seen as one of the remnants of the Mbeki era who were hired by Zuma to accommodate warring factions.
Zuma mostly depended on ANC officials or his political confidants for political advice.
Kodwa and Nqakula are among the Zuma presidency staff who have left in the past three years amid tensions and infighting.
Others include former presidential spokesman Vincent Magwenya, former communications head Vusi Mona, former director-general Vusi Mavimbela, former chief operating officer Jessie Duarte and former economic adviser Mandisi Mpahlwa.
Some blamed power relations between the senior staff and Zuma’s key confidant and head of private office, Lakela Kaunda. She has since dismissed such allegations.