Being Zuma

William Saunderson-Meyer writes on the ex-President's burdens


“It’s so unfair!” That’s the anguished lament of the perpetual adolescent, as well as that of former presidents no longer feeling the love of the people.

Jacob Zuma’s whining, self-pity upon hearing the Constitutional Court verdict that will send him to jail, nominally for 15 months, was par for the course. He possesses a sense of entitlement and being the centre of the universe that is more appropriate to a teenager than a man in his 80th year.

This is the man who had sworn an oath to protect the Constitution but nevertheless believes that the African National Congress’ internal constitution is South Africa’s apex law. Tellingly, it’s a misapprehension on which no one in his party has ever called him.

Despite having been selected by Thabo Mbeki as the ANC’s most ethically upstanding person to head the Moral Regeneration Movement — and later by his party as the country’s best possible leader — Zuma has repeatedly shown he is defiantly ignorant, emotionally impaired and possesses not a shred of shame.

Instead of snivelling about how unfair the ConCourt judgment is, he should instead reflect on how lucky he is. Not only has he survived supposed attempts by his wives to poison him, as well as by Western imperialists to unseat him, but given the allegations of criminality that have swirled around him for decades, he has had a legally charmed life, aside from his political incarceration on Robben Island.___STEADY_PAYWALL___

During much of the struggle, Zuma was deputy head of the ANC-in-exile’s dreaded security apparatus, which engaged in acts of torture and murder of would-be comrades suspected of being apartheid spies or who were simply deemed to be too critical of the ANC hierarchy. No one was ever charged with the crimes that took place in those camps and Zuma managed even to escape any scrutiny from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on those human rights abuses.

When he was charged, for the first time, it was with the rape of a comrade’s young daughter. But he was acquitted, incurring no more than a stern lecture from the judge for having unprotected sex with an HIV positive woman who was not his partner. This proved to be no impediment to becoming president.

In contrast, his accuser had to live under a false name to protect herself from a baying Zuma mob that abused her and at one stage hounded her out of the country. She died a broken woman.

After the rape acquittal, the criminal charges started coming fast and furious but to no avail. The Zuma cloak of political immunity proved impermeable.

Charged in 2004 with corruption in connection with the arms deal he managed to delay the trial for four years before the charges were withdrawn on a procedural technicality. Reinstated on appeal, they were dropped again in 2009, when he managed to snaffle the presidency.

2018 brought new corruption charges. After endless delaying tactics and a scandalous, orchestrated campaign of abuse directed at the judiciary, which at times has verged on criminal intimidation, Zuma has still to answer those charges of fraud, corruption, racketeering, and money-laundering in connection with an arms deal that took place in 1999.

It’s now halfway through 2021 and at last Zuma's luck has run out and he has been sentenced to15 months in jail for contempt of court. Like the notorious Chicago mobster Al Capone being jailed for income tax offences, it’s not a pretty win for Lady Justice but a win nevertheless.

Capone served eight years of an 11-year sentence, discharged early on compassionate because of impaired mental capacity, his brain a soup from syphilis. He, too, obviously preferred showers to condoms in his dalliances.

Zuma will serve just eight months before becoming eligible for parole. That’s probably too short a period to develop the mysterious life-threatening affliction that rescued his pal Schabir Shaik from his 15-year jail sentence.

Nevertheless, this might be the moment to start making friends with the learned Durban doctors who swore, hand-on-heart, that the Shabby Sheik was at death’s door and deserved medical parole. It’s the same doctors, no doubt, who then miraculously restored his health to the degree that a dozen years later his biggest concern in life is his golf handicap.

The question on South Africa’s lips is whether the sentence will be carried out and whether Zuma will by Sunday quietly report to jail, failing which the police will have to arrest him. The ANC has so effectively undermined the rule of law that, despite there being no legal escape from the ConCourt’s ruling, there’s widespread public scepticism as to whether he will be incarcerated and, if so, for how long.

South Africa, in the meanwhile, is being treated to some high political theatre.

There will be much toyi-toying by camouflaged geriatrics belonging to the MK war vets association, which until its recent official disbandment, has acted as Zuma’s personal guard.

Son Edward has said that he would not allow the police to arrest his father. He declaimed dramatically on television, “I will lay down my life for President Zuma. They will not take him while I am alive, they will have to kill me first.”

With those words, Edward made the most irresistible two-birds, one-stone offer I’ve heard in a while. Whether Police Minister Bheki Cele’s heavy-handed goon squads, who’ve killed several people during lockdown for nothing more serious than walking down the street or having a drink in their own back garden, will be able to resist Ed’s offer, remains to be seen. We wait with bated breath.

A more peaceful scenario, however, was sketched by Di, one of Zuma’s many daughters, quoted on the BBC. For some unknown reason, I can only find the report on the BBC’s New Guinea news stream but its rendering in Pidgin adds charm, methinks: “She bin tweet, ‘Lockdown or no lockdown we go escort you to serve your time’ … And say her papa ‘spirit dey high and im no get any fear’.”

Whatever anxiety Jacob Zuma has on how events play out, he is probably matched in his angst by President Cyril Ramaphosa. Stakes are high.

This may prove to be the culmination of Ramaphosa’s long, excruciatingly slow, defanging of Zuma and the Radical Economic Transformation cabal. If Zuma can be jailed for months without too much drama on the streets or within the party, it becomes much easier, at a later stage, for Zuma and other card-carrying state looters to be jailed for years. On the other hand, if the resistance provoked by Zuma’s jailing is fiercer than expected, it will significantly weaken the position of the president and the reformists in the ANC.

Hence the ANC’s cautious response to the ConCourt. The party “noted” the judgment and would “reflect on [its] implications and consequences” at its national executive committee meeting this weekend. It urged its supporters to remain calm during this “difficult” moment.

The jailing of Zuma is an acid test.

Follow WSM on Twitter @TheJaundicedEye