EXCLUSIVE: Will the real Zuma please stand up?

Duduzane Zuma opens up about the relationship between himself and his father, former president Jacob Zuma, in an interview with Zohra Teke. File Picture: Tumi Pakkies / Independent Newspapers

Duduzane Zuma opens up about the relationship between himself and his father, former president Jacob Zuma, in an interview with Zohra Teke. File Picture: Tumi Pakkies / Independent Newspapers

Published Apr 14, 2024


Duduzane Zuma’s arrival at the restaurant where we agree to meet is very casual. No entourage, bodyguards or flamboyant entrance.

He parks his motorbike upfront, removes his helmet and strolls in casually.

Charismatic, unpretentious and good looking. Soft spoken, he apologises for looking a little rugged. I dare not tell him that's an attractive look for a biker.

He shakes my hand, gives me a warm hug, asking how I am “ma’am” — I'm slightly peeved. Do I look like an old lady? Then he repeats this with the waitress as he requests a bottle of water.

I'm relieved and impressed. He has a lot of swag. And respect. And style. Waiters quietly jostle to be around without making it obvious. I can tell he's used to that.

The Zuma effect.

We settle on the couch and he's comfortable, sliding into position in preparation for our interview. The 41 year old is happy to chat, no holds barred. And so, I fire the first salvo.

"Forget being the son of Jacob Zuma for a moment. Forget the status that comes with it. Who are you really? Will the real Duduzane please stand up?"

He smiles sheepishly. “I'm just me. I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth contrary to what people believe. Were we living in poverty? No. But that doesn't mean I was born into a life of privilege.

“I've had to struggle with living in exile, born out of South Africa, living with being known as the son of the president later, thrown into the limelight I did not want or choose. I had to fight to be my own person. I was judged before I could even start my own life. I've had to pay the price just for being the son of a president. But I'm here. Life's lessons have made me stronger, wiser, no regrets.”

“I had to fight to be my own person.”

His accent is a mix of polished private school influence and international exposure. I can't imagine him pulling off the same dance moves as his energetic 81-year-old father. Duduzane just seems too proper for that kind of jiggy-jiggy.

Instead, I imagine him sipping a glass of red wine watching his dad belting it out to Umshini wami. But he's quick to correct that. "I don't drink so no wine for me!" he laughs. No smoking either, he says. A clean, healthy lifestyle.

Duduzane is best known for having become a business partner with the Gupta brothers who were widely accused of capturing and corrupting state entities in South Africa before fleeing to Dubai.

It's been almost 10 years since he's had his bank accounts frozen, despite having corruption charges withdrawn against him over allegations he colluded with the Guptas.

But, Duduzane has no regrets with his former links to them.

"I have absolutely no regrets. I was introduced to Guptas, it was an opportunity to learn about business. It opened my eyes, allowed me to learn quickly and it made me grow a lot faster in business.

“I was never involved in government tenders or anything like that — I'm still not and have fought and continue to fight this perception. I maintain my innocence.

“I've never been found guilty yet my economic independence was taken away. I am not recognised financially. My bank accounts remain frozen,” he pauses.

“There's been no evidence, no proof of me doing anything illegal.”

“I'm exhausted. There's been no evidence, no proof of me doing anything illegal. Yet I'm still fighting this. They found nothing. Absolutely nothing stuck. Yet that's what I am paying for. My financial freedom was taken from me. Until today. I keep repeating my innocence. People either believe it or they don't.”

But why Dubai? And why did he return?

"I had no choice. I did not run as fugitive going into hiding. I had to find a way to support myself. I had no access to my banks, could not do anything here. Dubai offered that solution."

Did he get it touch with the Guptas while there?

"Yes I did. I met them a few times but haven't seen or spoken to them since 2019," he replies.

Having returned from Dubai, Duduzane says his focus has been building his party, All Game Changers. Ostensibly, he says, he decided to launch as he felt a change was needed politically. A young, vibrant leadership to take South Africa forward.

And the launch of his party had mixed reviews. Some people laughed it off, some questioned his political intellectual, saying he had no track record. And there were those who were excited at the prospect of the Zuma tradition continuing in Parliament.

But after much fanfare, his party amongst 10 others were disqualified from contesting the elections. The IEC claimed they did not meet the registration criteria.

Disappointed? Yes. Defeated? That’s not the Zuma way.

He's licked his wounds, back on the saddle and ready to move on building his party after the elections. That 'let's learn and get on with it' attitude seems to be a Zuma gene. The passion and drive to continue despite the odds.

"We are disappointed but that's not going to stop us. We go on. This is not the end but the beginning," he says.

So, will he throw his support behind his dad's MK party or ask his supporters to mark their X there instead? Does he think his dad's decision was a good move to start the new party? And have they fallen out over his decision to launch his own party?

"He's my dad. I love my old man. He's my role model. I've learnt a lot from him. But people must remember his age.

“I don't think he should have started the MK party.”

“I don't think he should have started the MK party. He has a few years left and he should have just enjoyed his life, taking it easy. He shouldn't be taking on this kind of stress at his age. But he likes the chase.

“I respect that even if I disagree. Will I ask my supporters to vote for the MK party? No. We differ fundamentally. But voters must make up their own minds. What ever they decide. We need change. That's the most important thing.

“People who don't vote are part of the problem. And we need solutions. Our vote is part of the solution,” he adds.

Often punted as the suave Zuma son with an estimated net worth of R240 million and a jet setting lifestyle to match, Duduzane certainly doesn't come across that way. We exchange stories about family, schools and kids. He is very protective of his family.

"So, those rumours of a divorce?" He laughs, he's heard it all before.

"Happily married?" I ask.

Yes! Yes! came the reply.

"And still one wife? For now?" I push.

He laughs and its not a nervous laugh. "Just one for now," he answers sheepishly. He has mastered the PR game.