Johannesburg “A difficult moment in history.”
That’s how political analysts have described former president Jacob Zuma’s arrest on Wednesday night at his Nkandla home.
In what seemed to be the calm before the storm, with Zuma’s supporters adamant that he wouldn’t hand himself over to police and Zuma’s supporters baying for blood, the homestead erupted into drama and tears in Zuma’s last-minute decision to hand himself over to the Estcourt Correctional Centre just after midnight.
While many have argued that this development was the sign of an active constitutional democracy, some have maintained that this was a political win for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s faction in the ANC.
Zuma is believed to still be manning power in the organisation, with backers such as suspended secretary-general Ace Magashule and NEC member Tony Yengeni. But this week, the Zuma faction faced a mighty blow.
At about 11pm, an ambulance escorted by three Volkswagen Golf GTIs arrived at Zuma’s gate. His son Edward and supporters blocked the ambulance, saying “it was Bheki Cele’s plan to arrest Zuma through the ambulance”.
Little did those inside know that the ambulance was called for Zuma’s first wife MaKhumalo, who collapsed from the anxiety of the arrest.
“Baba was first arrested a few months after he married MaKhumalo and spent 10 years in Robben Island. A few months after his release, he went into exile. This is a reminder of the painful past,” said a source from inside the Zuma family.
Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma was reportedly the person who eventually convinced him to present himself to correctional services following a family meeting that began at about 10pm.
“I don’t want there to be bloodshed because of me, because of my name. To them that did this, I forgive them. It must never be said that MaMzobe’s son caused violence,” Zuma reportedly told the family meeting.
Just before midnight, a convoy of heavily-armed police in double cabs, panel vans and armoured Nyalas started slowly approaching Zuma’s homestead.
When they became visible to those outside the home, Zuma’s VIP convoy from Presidential Protection Services lined up near the gate to speed out of the gate.
Their hasty exit was delayed when they found that Zuma’s supporters led by his son, Edward, had blocked the gates with vehicles and had formed a shield. A VIP protector shouted at them to open the way and they did.
Meanwhile, Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola briefed the media on Thursday morning saying Zuma was “in very good spirits” and had just finished his breakfast and taken his medication.
He said that this was not a moment of celebration or triumphalism but a moment of restraint and to be human.
“In line with our mandate as correctional services to treat all inmates in terms of the Nelson Mandela rules, which are universal rules for the treatment of inmates. Rule one is empathy. All inmates shall be treated with the respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings,” Lamola said.
Thursday also came with its own froth of drama, with suspended Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association spokesperson Carl Niehaus being arrested live on TV outside the Estcourt prison where he was addressing the media.
He had been at the forefront of Zuma’s defence. In a statement, the police confirmed that the 61-year-old has been charged for contravening lockdown regulations.
National SAPS spokesperson Vish Naidoo said Niehaus was warned but proceeded with the contravention.
In KwaZulu-Natal, pro-Zuma protests began to break out on Thursday and the ANC called for calm.