Former president Jacob Zuma File picture: African News Agency/ANA

Durban - Former president Jacob Zuma says that had he been given six months as a dictator he would have sentenced young people hooked on drugs to Robben Island and forced them to study.

He made the bold statement during a visit to a top performing school in his hometown of Nkandla in northern KwaZulu-Natal on Saturday.

Zuma, 75, speaking publicly for the first time after he was forced by the ANC to resign as the country’s president, told pupils at Bizimali High School that he had retired as head of state too young.

He also revealed that he introduced free higher education against strong opposition from some circles.

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“If it were up to me, I would enforce a rule that a child who is not at school be arrested. Those who do whoonga, dagga, alcohol, would be removed to a college, maybe Robben Island, and be forced to learn and leave that place with a degree,” Zuma said.

He said parents allowing their children to “kill themselves with drugs and alcohol” were destroying the future of the nation.

It is not the first time that Zuma has wished he was a dictator.

In June 2016 while speaking at Marhulana Primary School in Tembisa, Zuma said he would love six months as a dictator to resolve the country’s unemployment crisis.

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“If you just give me six months to be a dictator things will be in order. Right now to make a decision you need a resolution decision collective petition. Yoh! It’s a lot of work. I am emphasising that let us pay more attention to our children in education” Zuma said at the time.

Zuma implored South Africans to take lessons of nation building from Shaka Zulu.

“Shaka ruled for 12 years. Look at us, we have ruled for 23 years and we are still crying. Democracy should have authority. Once there is no authority in democracy, it becomes worse than a dictatorship, it becomes more dangerous.

“Maybe it’s because he (Shaka) did not sit in many meetings. He knew that if he called a meeting, people would dismiss him. There is a lesson we must take from him, that we enforce the right thing by imposing it,” he said.

He said that although he did not go to school, he wished the children of Nkandla would all be educated, and said he wanted to see more presidents come out of his rural home town. “For us (blacks) to be exploited and denied knowledge, the oppressors used education to hinder and conquer us.

“When we are free and still don’t know that education is our only tool to free ourselves, that means we are still in the dark, we haven’t seen the road to freedom,” he added.

He said economic power in South Africa still resided in the hands of those who benefited from apartheid, and that transformation would only take place if the black majority was educated.

Zuma announced in December that the government would subsidise free higher education for poor and working-class students.

This was followed by Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba allocating R57billion towards fee-free higher education for the next three years.

On Saturday, Zuma said that his policy of fee-free higher education had faced resistance, but would not elaborate further.

He said he had remained resolute as he had taken an oath that he would not leave the government until free education was introduced.

“I had a lot of arguments with people who said there was no money. Education is more important than other government programmes. If there is no money, let’s take from those programmes, let’s close the least important,” he said.

However he did not specify exactly which government programmes he was referring to.

Political analyst Somadoda Fikeni said Zuma’s comments were consistent with the man the country had come to know.

“What seems to be difficult for him is a sense of acceptance where he has failed.

“It may also be a reflection of a greater sense of what he is capable of than he actually is,” Fikeni said.

He added that Zuma had an exaggerated sense of self-importance and capacity.

But he said this behaviour had become wider than just a Zuma thing.

“When the government does well, they say it is the ANC; when it’s doing badly, they say its global economic conditions. This self-delusion is deeply ingrained - denying failure and claiming successes,” he said.

The Mercury