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Johannesburg - While the political tide is turning fast against President Jacob Zuma, he has not been sufficiently discredited to lose the battle at Mangaung.
So said award-winning investigative journalist Adriaan Basson, author of Zuma Exposed, the much-anticipated account of Zuma’s rise and subsequent unravelling.
Addressing the Cape Town Press Club on Thursday, Basson said while most South Africans considered the “obscene” spending on Nkandla and other aspects of Zuma’s presidency indefensible, this would not translate into his being ousted as ANC president.
Despite being in a “state of political panic” over Zuma’s performance, the ANC would rally around him ahead of the 2014 elections for the sake of continuity.
“There is the sense that the ANC has to close ranks and rally around him, despite all the mistakes and scandals of the last five years.”
Zuma Exposed was launched in Cape Town this week, ahead of the ANC’s elective conference in Mangaung.
With a cast of characters that includes his wives, children, allies, advisers and enemies, the book reflects on Zuma’s political life, from Schabir Shaik to The Spear.
Basson, the assistant editor of City Press, provides a rivetting account of Zuma’s political life, beginning with his rise to power “as victim, not visionary”, and tracing how he lurched from one bad decision to the next.
The book relates what Basson refers to as Zuma’s “masterful skill at creating himself as a victim of conspiracies”.
Describing the president as a cunning strategist, trained in intelligence, Basson said when he came to office, expectations were high that he would be a “people’s president”.
“He has had much success - in Aaron Motsoaledi he appointed an excellent health minister… and… Thuli Madonsela has been the best public protector we have had since 1994.
“But these successes are overshadowed by Zuma’s dark side, his appointment of tainted and incompetent individuals to head key state institutions, his lack of leadership when it came to corruption, the ANC Youth League and The Spear, the enrichment of his family and attempts to benefit from mineral licences and Nkandlagate.”
Basson said the scandal around the funding of Zuma’s family compound could be his “Watergate moment”.
“The longer Zuma and the Public Works Department refuse to answer all the public’s questions around the extraordinary R250 million spending in tough economic times, the harder we will dig for the truth,” he said.
Referring to documents leaked to him, Basson said these spoke of a “joint project with joint responsibility for the upgrade”.
“According to this document, Jacob Zuma would have had to pay R10m from his own pocket.
“When he referred to the bond in Parliament last week, he was speaking about R1 million secured for him by businessman, friend and casino owner Vivian Reddy, from FNB, to fund the first phase of his development in the early 2000s, not to the sum of at least R10m he had to fork out this time round.” Basson said Zuma had yet to come clean about his involvement in Nkandla.
“It is clear to me that something is being hidden from the public,” Basson said.
Public perception was now fast turning against Zuma, with the Nkandla scandal being the “cherry on the cake”, Basson stressed.
“This has been a big blow for him, an accumulation of years of bad decisions, bad judgment, a corruption case and now Nkandlagate.”
Asked why so many ANC leaders were closing ranks to protect Zuma and to have him re-elected, Basson said there was a strong feeling in the organisation that a dramatic change of guard should be avoided.
“We saw the changing of the guard from Mbeki to Zuma, when there was a massive change in the state civil service... People don’t want to see that sort of change every five years. The fault lies with the structure, in which civil servants are linked to politicians and not appointed for their skill.”