As obvious as the nose on Pinocchio’s face

Jeremy Gordin says there is no way the ex-President will be back in jail for Christmas

Aha! – the 16th of December, also known locally as the Day of Reconciliation, and my last Politicsweb column for 2021.

In the words of the trusty cliché, the past 11-and-a-half months have simply flown by – though seems to me that 2021 CE has not so much disappeared but that, due to Covid-19 and the various lockdowns of various sorts, 2021 and 2020 have somehow gotten conflated and that it’s the past 23 months that have vanished.

Now that I take a look, much of what I remember as having happened in 2021 actually seems to have taken took place in 2020. Ah, the CFHPT effect (Covid fiddling with human perceptions of time), as we physicists call it.

Or maybe it’s the state of desuetude into which one (well, certainly me) has been forced – staying at home as much as possible, not going out lest someone coughs on you, and avoiding all the clubs and bars and political meetings, especially EFF ones, that I used to frequent. It’s definitely been a time of stasis.  

I did, however, experience about 90 seconds of high excitement yesterday when I heard that Judge Keoagile Elias Matojane of the Pretoria high court ruled that former president Jacob G. Zuma must go back to jail because he is not terminally ill or physically incapacitated, and thus does not legally qualify for medical parole.

The learned judge also noted that by having released Zuma on medical parole, erstwhile correctional services commissioner Arthur Fraser undermined “respect for the courts, the rule of law and the constitution itself”.

As you might know, the DA and others, including the good people at the Helen Suzman Foundation, legally challenged Zuma’s release on medical parole, which happened less than two months after he started a 15-month sentence for defying a Constitutional Court order to appear before the Zondo commission.

This was after Fraser, apparently a china of Zuma’s, ignored a recommendation by the medical parole board not to grant Zuma medical parole.

Judge Matojane ruled that Zuma should be returned to the Estcourt correctional centre to serve his sentence and that the three months he had been out on medical parole should not count. He will therefore have to spend an additional three months in jail to complete that 15-month sentence.

This, as my learned friend Andrew Donaldson pointed outis not without its humour (if that’s the word I want). Zuma was jailed in July; if he’d served his sentence, he would in all likelihood have been eligible for parole last month. As Donaldson noted, it was thus possible that, if Zuma had not been Frasered from the prison house, one of our greatest prisoners of conscience would have been home for the hols.

“Who now [meaning who now would have the cojones] to haul JGZ to tjoekie from Nkandla, especially at Christmas time?’ I demanded rhetorically of my friends and acquaintances on WhatsApp. One of them quickly put me in my place. “Reindeer,” he replied.

But he wasn’t referring to Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder, Blixem, or Rudolph. What he was saying was “don’t be a shmuck”.

No way Zuma is going back to Estcourt – not before the kids of Nkandla have had their Christmas party. (Does Zuma, I wonder, notwithstanding the allegedly straitened financial circumstances in which he finds himself, still hold that party?)

My friend was, of course, correct. Before one could say Karen Bliksem or even Carl Niehaus, Zuma’s legal team indicated they would appeal the high court ruling – and so, remarkably, has the Department of Correctional Services (DCS).

That charming fellow from the DCS, Singabakho Nxumalo, he who (no offence) has clearly never had to manage on prison chow, mumbled something on TV about the judge not having fully understood the Correctional Services Act.

But never mind that – it was as obvious as the nose on Pinocchio’s face that Zuma was going to appeal.

And if his appeal is set aside by, say, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), then Zuma will go to the Concourt – a scenario which, you have to admit, is also not without its humour. It’s how Zuma rolls. What some judge or court has to do is to refuse him leave to appeal. But that’s not going to happen – it’s not the Seffrican way.

By the way, keeping in mind my remark that this is a time of stasis, I have suddenly remembered that when I was a student, beavering away at the classics, I was bamboozled by a passage in which the learned author kept remarking on the “stasis” plaguing the Greek city-state (polis) under discussion.

I thus learned that, in terms of political history, “stasis” refers to an episode of civil war within an ancient Greek city-state, as a result of opposition between groups of citizens, fighting over the constitution of the city or social and economic problems.

I mention this because, although I quickly got over my excitement regarding the high court ordering Zuma to go back to Estcourt, there are others who have not. They have drawn a direct line between Zuma’s arrest in July and the unrest and looting that followed soon afterwards in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, during which more than 300 people were killed and (a conservatively estimated) R50bn was lost to the economy.

Minister of Police Bheki Cele appeared on TV today reassuring us in a rather byzantine sentence that the forces of law and order were on guard against a repeat of the unrest – “We’ll have to use those experiences that the repeat of the destruction of property and the loss of life as it happened shouldn’t” – and Minister of Justice Ronald Ozzy Lamola said people should avoid “inflammentory” [sic] statements about the high court judgment.

One such a person was, one noted, the KZN premier Sihle Zikalala who said “they” [sic] support the DCS’s decision to appeal the judgment. Whoops – no Christmas card for him from President Cyril Ramaphosa or the acting Chief Justice.

So much for so-called “politics” and “law”.

Here, back in the hinterland, it was, after a night of sporadic rainfall, a cloudy day and the suburb of Parkview seemed as quiet and static as the grave, though in this time of Covid let me not be in such a hurry to use the grave even as a simile.

And let me not think, because it’s so quiet, that local entrepreneurship is asleep – a message on one of the suburb’s WhatsApp threads notes that a gate was derailed on one of the suburb’s main roads and “a house robbery took place”. 

Then, on my daily constitutional, I reached the St. Francis of Assisi Anglican church on Tyrone Avenue [i] – and there standing before me was a crowd of indigent folk, many of whom were known to me but many of whom were not. For, though journalists generally can’t count, I counted about 100 people.

On most days, there’re only about 10 people hanging about that corner, hard by the bottle store, and also if you investigate a little more by walking over to Zoo Lake, there’re perhaps another 10 people. These are the ones I know.

But clearly word spreads fast and effectively among the hungry of the greater conurbation. Yes, they were all excitedly lining up outside the church which, it was explained to me, was holding a Day of Reconciliation lunch for all those caring to attend.

There you go. Some Seffricans are trying to stay out of jail, others are working to reconcile with each other. Have an excellent festive season, get your inoculation, and insha’Allah I’ll see you on the other side.


[i] If, like me, you’ve ever wondered why an Anglican church would be named after one of the most venerated religious figures in Roman Catholic history, good ol’ Wikipedia notes that one of the “results of the Oxford Movement in the Anglican Church during the 19th century was the re-establishment of religious orders, including some of Franciscan inspiration”.