Former president Jacob Zuma and his lawyer Daniel Mantsha look over papers while they wait for proceedings to start in the Pietermaritzburg High Court. Picture: Leon Lestrade/African News Agency (ANA)
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

It’s a really unfair question grown-ups throw at kids so often, with the expectation they can define themselves in terms of work and careers at that tender age.

It’s probably the last thing on their minds.

I may not be qualified to advise young people on career choices but I can certainly recommend which ones to avoid, judging from the recent experiences of three high-profile figures in our country.

The world may well be your oyster, but think twice about aspiring to become the president of your country, your city’s mayor or the head honcho of the national airlines.

The careers appear to be fraught with risk. Granted, there’s the opportunity to make oodles of boodle while the going is good, but when the proverbial poo hits the fan, you could well find yourself standing in the dock and, worse still, stone broke.

Take the case of former president Jacob Zuma.

He was lord of the manor of our republic for almost a decade, rubbing shoulders with popes and presidents.

Flying from capital to capital in his taxpayer-funded luxury jet, he was accustomed to the high life - taking tea with the queen at Buckingham Palace, hobnobbing with finance ministers and economists at Davos and rubbing shoulders with influential world leaders at the UN.

Those were the days of prosperity when money seemed to grow on trees in the backyard of the Gupta compound in Saxonwold.

Until the long arm of the law stepped in and he had to face a raft of charges relating to the multibillion-rand arms deal.

Faced with the burden of paying off hefty legal fees, he’s pleading poverty. He says he’s selling hats and socks to pay his lawyers and advocates.

Poor, poor Zuma.

Then there’s the case of our embattled former mayor, Zandile Gumede, who only a few months ago ruled our city like her party fiefdom.

But she had to hand back her mayoral chains recently after being charged with fraud and corruption in connection with a multimillion-rand municipal tender deal.

Gumede has maintained her innocence, but says she’s been reduced to penury.

When the Hawks and Asset Forfeiture Unit raided her home last week, they took nothing because, she says, she’s “as poor as a church mouse”.

Poor, poor Gumede.

It seems like only yesterday that high-flying Dudu Myeni was an untouchable as SAA board chairperson. Only first-class would do.

But now that she’s been grounded, she can’t even afford a local economy flight anymore.

When she failed to make a court appearance recently, she pleaded poverty, claiming she couldn’t afford to pay for petrol and accommodation to travel to Pretoria for the case.

Poor, poor Myeni.

The three political soulmates insist they’re innocent victims of political conspiracies of some kind or another.

Let’s leave that to the courts to decide - whether they’re broke or just going for broke.

* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.