The Queen and Jacob Zuma

Andrew Donaldson says mourning has broken in the UK


MOURNING has broken, as Cat Stevens may have put it, and there are signs that normal life, as we once knew it, will return this week now that the queen has finally been laid to rest. 

Monday’s funeral service in Westminister Abbey was the culmination of a ten-day period marked not only by grief and sorrow but a deluge of sentimentality and nostalgia in the UK as Elizabeth II’s subjects paid their respects to the late monarch and declared their unstinting loyalty to the Crown.

Not being a monarchist, it felt a bit North Korean at times. For four extraordinary days, hundreds of thousands shuffled past the queen’s coffin during her lying-in-state at Westminster Hall. The queue was five miles long at its lengthiest, and officials had to turn people back at times. Then a second queue formed to join the first queue once it had shortened. 

Journalists pounced on the story. An innate instinct to queue! How very English! What an extraordinary expression of patriotism! No other nation in the world … and on and on it went, the weird gabbling on radio and television. 

The funeral service was watched by almost 30 million people in the UK, according to official data. But despite the overwhelming coverage, the commemoration did not meet predictions of becoming the most-watched broadcast in UK history. That honour went to the Euro 2020 final, when 31 million England football fans had their dreams shattered by Italy.

As expected, there have been complaints about the wall-to-wall coverage. One columnist noted that the BBC’s commentators had slowed down their speech, possibly to reduce the number of times they repeated themselves.

That was a bit unkind, I felt, as the endless interviews with anyone who had met the queen in their course of their lives must have been gruelling. What can one learn other than that she was  quite wonderful, slavishly devoted to the service of her people and extremely fond of horses?

There were exceptions, of course. One person who attracted my attention was Sir John Sawers, the former head of MI6. He had met with the queen on numerous occasions, and was asked about his favourite encounter. It involved Jacob Zuma. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

It was, he said, at a reception at the time of Zuma's 2010 state visit. The queen, Sawers explained, had heard that the president was somewhat “unsavoury”. When she introduced them, she told uBaba that Sawers was her “top spy”.

This had startled Accused Number One, and the queen turned to Sawers, giving him a furtive smile. “It was,” he said, “her way of saying [to Zuma] ‘We’re onto you.’”

That, admittedly, is hardly worth repeating. I mean, who in 2010 was not aware that Jacob Zuma was flat-out rubbish?

But, as mentioned, all that purple deference is behind us, and the news cycle is picking up. Donald Trump, who was not invited to the funeral, has mocked Joe Biden, who was invited — and was seated in the 14th row in the abbey. (Location, location, location, as every shady real estate developer will tell you.)

“This is what’s happened to America in just two short years,” the orange putz posted on social media. “No respect! However, a good time for our President to get to know the leaders of certain Third World countries.”

One of those leaders would, of course, have been our own Cyril Ramaphosa. Biden had met him just a few days previously, in Washington DC. Squirrel and his US counterpart apparently spent time discussing “a range of critical issues of national, regional and global importance”.

In its report of the meeting, News24 included this nugget: “There was agreement on the need to create a more attractive environment for American companies to invest in South Africa.”

An environment, presumably, in which the lights stayed on. So it was perversely comforting that Squirrel was forced to cut short his foreign trip to return to Pretoria to deal with the Eskom crisis.

“Deal” in this context is obviously relative. Still, there was something quaint in the suggestion of urgency, that the world’s most embarrassed used cow salesman was somehow going to tackle the problem most pronto. But the hasty flight was probably more a case of getting back home before the country falls into total darkness.

With the lights out there was the very real possibility that “South African One”, as the vanity jet is called, would overshoot the landing strip at Waterkloof air force base and plough into the Voortrekker monument.

Safely on the ground, the president rattled off another of his weekly newsletters, managing to hit “send” just as the battery in his laptop went on the fritz. A pity, for the missive wasn’t at all encouraging.

The drastic power cuts, he explained a trifle enigmatically, have given greater urgency to measures announced by government to stabilise electricity supply. What’s more, he’d had discussions with his ministers and officials about the reasons for the failing power supply. 

We are not assured.

The plunder prototype…

Further indication that political life is returning to the same old, same old came from Prime Minister Nkosazana Virodene Lockdown Sarafina “The Clarice” Dlamini Proxy Zuma. 

This week she launched the Local Government Anti-Corruption Forum and the Local Government Ethical Leadership Initiative and, along with senior writers with the Iqbal Survé press, I am genuinely excited — although probably not for the same reasons. 

Now, I’m no pessimist. Faced with a glass half-full or half-empty situation, I’m naturally inclined to suggest another round. Here, though, I suspect is a very stillborn initiative. Given what we know of the ANC’s leadership, this is very much like offering the survivors of the Titanic cub scout badges for proficiency in swimming. 

The great irony — and it is glaringly obvious — about the Clarice’s cooperative governance and traditional affairs department helming this laughable exercise is that she is the ruling party’s looting lodestar.

It was she who provided the blueprint for the predatory elite. As health minister in 1995, she had proposed that the Mbongeni Ngema musical, Sarafina 2, should tour the country to promote awareness about HIV/Aids.

Three parties were invited to tender. Only two did. One, Opera Africa, stated it could stage and tour the production for R600 000. The other, Ngema’s Committed Artists company, put in a bid for R14.25-million — and got the job. Here’s how The New York Times described what happened next:

“…very soon after Sarafina 2 opened here last spring, questions began to arise. Aids experts called some of its dialogue dangerously inaccurate, its message unclear. And people wondered: Why had it cost so much? How had the cash-strapped national health department, the sponsor of the second version, paid for it?

“As a musical, it closed quickly. As a story of government bungling, it is still running six months later. And many South Africans see it as an example of a disturbing trend: Even some supporters say that after more than two years in office, the African National Congress is developing a poor record on handling charges of corruption and misconduct within its ranks … the Cabinet minister in charge of health has been caught lying to Parliament. The production contract turned out to have gone to a good friend of hers. Proper bidding procedures were ignored. The private donor she said had paid the bill had never heard of the play.

“But perhaps most disturbing to many South Africans is that so far not a head has rolled. Not even a reprimand has been issued, a situation that has prompted much talk about the state of accountability in the new South Africa. Far from condemning the debacle, officials of the African National Congress have fiercely defended the Health Commissioner, Dr Nkosazana Zuma. President Nelson Mandela recently lashed out at the news media for ‘creating such an uproar’ and said Dr Zuma should be left alone to do her job…”

This was Parliament’s first major run-in with the ANC. As political commentator and former Sunday Times colleague Ray Hartley told me back in 2014: “It was highly irregular, and right there Mandela could have said, ‘We don't do business this way.' Parliament was holding [Dlamini-Zuma] to account and she was saved from that parliamentary process and some minor official in that department got fired and she went on to greater heights. And there was never any public sanction of what she’d done. That was a moment where a direction could have been chosen — and a wrong direction was chosen.”

Yes … and here we are, all these years later, and lest we forget the Clarice has now also thrown her doek into the ring regarding the ANC leadership contest. And there it sits, on the canvas, along with Lindiwe Sisulu’s ferociously sullen wig. 

She hasn’t a hope, given that Squirrel beat her in the 2017 elective conference. More importantly, the pro-Zuma RET faction want nothing to do with her.

This despite her ex-husband’s exhortations that his followers throw their weight behind her leadership campaign. The feeling among the RET is that a youthful, more militant candidate should be leading the charge against Squirrel. 

Oddly enough, Dlamini-Zuma’s concerns about local government corruption echoed earlier comments by Squirrel on the matter. Addressing mayors who had gathered in East London for a SA Local Government Association conference, he claimed that, for all this chatter of state capture, the serious stuff was at municipal level.

“I have heard about this [corruption], where everything is outsourced to serve outside interests, resulting in the municipality being captured,” News24 quoted the president as saying. 

“You have been talking about state capture and, in fact, we are finding that the real capture is happening at local government level, where certain interests just capture the entire municipality and they purportedly then provide every service…

“I have heard stories of councils being captured by criminals — whereby, in the council chambers, you will find criminals sitting in the gallery among the audience watching closely over the council proceedings to hear how the councillors will vote on the distribution of equitable share. These criminals are waiting for their own share.”

Which does rather remind me of any number of state of the nation addresses I have reported on. But that is neither here nor there. If it’s a young gun the RET need, then perhaps we should keep an eye on the young and unloveable cigarette merchant, Edward Zuma.