Former president Jacob Zuma  File picture: Kopano Tlape/GCIS
Former president Jacob Zuma File picture: Kopano Tlape/GCIS

Looking back at the Zuma soap opera

By Quinton Mtyala Time of article published Dec 30, 2018

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On Saturday former president Jacob Zuma dished out Christmas presents to the children and youth of Nkandla, putting up a brave face despite his mounting legal troubles which, even if he’s exonerated on charges of fraud and corruption, will no doubt leave him broke.

Zuma is liable for between R15 million and R32 million in legal fees after the North Gauteng High Court recently ruled that he will have to cover his own legal fees and pay back the money spent on his legal defence which he had claimed from the state.

Depending on how long you’ve been following this soap opera, whether it be from June 2005, when Zuma was fired as Thabo Mbeki’s deputy president, or when he ascended to the ANC presidency in December 2007, the Jacob Zuma Show has been anything but a snorefest.

In-between his firing by Mbeki and his ascendancy to become president of South Africa, Zuma had survived a rape trial, while former acting national director of public prosecutions advocate Mokotedi Mpshe dropped corruption charges against him on the eve of the 2009 general elections.

Not even Houdini in his heyday could pull off such an escape.

Zuma’s stock has been on the wane since at least 2010 when former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema fell out with him.

Remember, Malema went as far as saying he would “kill” for Zuma, but that sentiment was never reciprocated by Msholozi.

Instead, Malema got brickbats.

An investigation by the Public Protector found that On-Point Engineering, in which Malema’s family trust held shares, had unlawfully been awarded tenders by the Limpopo provincial government.

This was found to be improper and tantamount to maladministration.

Malema had been the de facto ruler of Limpopo, and in charge of a large-scale patronage network which eventually bankrupted the province, forcing national government to place Limpopo under administration, thus derailing an out-of-control gravy train.

Others would follow like former Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, who was axed from the union confederation after a sex scandal, and much later SACP boss Blade Nzimande, who after several taunts was eventually removed from Zuma’s cabinet on the eve of the party’s elective conference at Nasrec.

During his second term as ANC president, and later South African president, Zuma surrounded himself with the sort of sycophants straight from a Monty Python skit.

Who can forget former police minister Nkosinathi Nhleko sweating buckets as he tried to convince us all that the construction of Zuma’s homestead, for which the public protector found he had unduly benefited when public money was used for its construction, was above board.

Then we had the case of former Hawks boss Berning Ntlemeza, whose appointment was found by the courts to have been unlawful.

Ntlemeza’s predecessor, Anwa Dramat, was first suspended, then prosecuted for the “illegal rendition of Zimbabweans” over an investigation by the Independent Police Investigations Directorate following which he and former Gauteng Hawks boss Shadrack Sibiya were later cleared.

But instead of being returned to his job, Dramat was handed a R3m golden handshake, clearing the way for Ntlemeza’s tenure at the elite crime-fighting unit.

Testifying at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, former finance minister and currently Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan said Ntlemeza was central to the state capture project.

Ntlemeza had sent Gordhan 27 questions ahead of the 2016 Budget over the establishment of a “rogue unit” at Sars.

The unit was to go after high-profile tax dodgers, but after a series of articles by the Sunday Times, the then newly appointed Sars commissioner, Tom Moyane, filed a criminal complaint over the conduct of the unit.

According to Gordhan’s testimony, this was all part of plot to force him to resign as finance minister which would allow the National Treasury to be captured.

On December 9, 2015 Zuma inexplicably reshuffled his cabinet, booting Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister in favour of former ANC backbencher Des van Rooyen, whose first act as minister was to hire two Gupta-linked advisers.

Three days later, following negative market reaction, Van Rooyen was moved to the ministry of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs.

Nene’s former deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, told the media, and later the State Capture Inquiry, that he had been approached by Zuma’s son Duduzane and offered R600 million if he agreed to be appointed as finance minister.

Former senior ANC MP Vytjie Mentor claimed the Guptas had offered her the job of public enterprises minister before the appointment of Barbara Hogan.

Gordhan would eventually be fired as finance minister on March 31, 2017 in another Cabinet reshuffle.

In-between the chaos that was the Zuma presidency, he survived several motions of no confidence in the National Assembly, but several courts ruled against Zuma, while opposition in the ANC swelled against him.

On the eve of the ANC’s Nasrec elective conference, Zuma received a legal blow when a court dismissed his review application of the state capture report by the Public Protector, which among its recommendations had called for the commission of inquiry which is currently probing state capture.

He also lost his subsequent appeal against the ruling,

While some of his former allies on the national stage had abandoned him, Zuma could always rely on the support of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, which is the party’s biggest province (in terms of membership) and until the Nasrec conference could be counted on to vote as a bloc.

But the split in KwaZulu-Natal’s ANC (and a bit of skulduggery) was crucial in ensuring that Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma lost the ANC presidency to Cyril Ramaphosa by a mere 179 votes.

Zuma’s game of chess, in which he calculated that Sihle Zikalala was a more reliable bet in delivering KZN to his chosen successor, instead drove a dividing line right through the ANC in the province - those who were for Zuma/Zikalala and those in support of former provincial chairperson and premier Senzo Mchunu, who later, by default, backed Ramaphosa.

In between all this drama, there were several court challenges and judgments which dented Zuma’s cloak of invincibility, but all of this would be moot if not for those 179 votes.

Ramaphosa would in less than two months be sworn in as South African president after Zuma’s allies inside the ANC chose the path of self- preservation.

Ramaphosa’s reign has not been smooth sailing from the troubles at the parastatals, most notably Eskom and the need to spur the country’s lacklustre economy.

Notwithstanding all this, he still remains popular among a broad swell of South Africans, and this might boost the ANC’s election prospects in May.

While Zuma once boasted that “the ANC will rule until Jesus comes”, 2019 will tell us if that day is closer.

Political Bureau

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