In the end, to the relief of a watching nation, the arrest drama ended peacefully. Former President Zuma, to the surprise of many, rose to the occasion and surrendered himself with dignity to the senior policewoman who arrested him. For once, he looked like a statesman and a former president. Perhaps it was because he was not being advised by his lawyers who continue making a hash of it, or by Carl Niehaus, or even his over-emotional son, Edward who had undertaken to die to prevent the arrest.
There was not going to be a bloodbath. The people gathered outside the gate to Nkandla – who were preparing for warfare – had dwindled to a handful, led by a somewhat merry Edward. To the surprise of no one, the MKVA contingent, those brave warriors, faded away quietly, probably when the meat ran out.
But given all that, there could have been an extremely ugly, unpleasant and undignified scene if Zuma had to be dragged out, handcuffed and thrown into a police van. He, and we, were spared that.
Now Zuma must continue rising to the occasion. The violence, the looting, the arson, the destruction of tens of millions of Rands worth of other peoples’ property by criminal mobs claiming to be part of a Free Zuma Movement, must stop. And he must tell them to stop.
Zuma needs to say that this lawlessness and violence, this destruction of the economy and the jobs of our people, must not be done in his name. The people who are involved are criminals who should be arrested, tried, and if convicted, severely punished.
He has many children and some of them who are adults have shown commendable – if misplaced – loyalty to their father. The criminal looters and arsonists have received encouragement on social media, reportedly also from one of the Zuma daughters. Zuma must call them to order and explain that they do irreparable harm to his standing by acting in an undisciplined and over-emotional way. This is especially the case where he is still (at the time of writing) involved in the Constitutional Court matter and faces a lengthy and gruelling criminal trial for multiple counts relating to corruption and the decades-old arms deal.
Zuma is aged 79 now. He will be properly looked after in the Estcourt Prison where the taxpayers will provide his accommodation for the next few months, before parole and his return to the taxpayer-provided Nkandla. By the time the criminal trial concludes, he will be over 80. Presuming that he could be found guilty on most or all the many charges, he will face a sentence of around 15 years. The way he conducts himself now may well determine whether he serves that sentence or whether he receives a Presidential Pardon.
Dali Mpofu, SC (a member of the Judicial Service Commission, believe it or not), and the other lawyers involved for Zuma, ought to consider their client’s future prospects. They should advise him to build on the dignified manner of his acceptance of arrest and at least pretend some deference to our Courts and the Rule of Law. The attitude of contempt and defiance has not paid off; in fact, it is that which brought about the self-inflicted imprisonment.
A good start for the lawyers and his family would be to encourage Mr Zuma to speak out against the egregious lawlessness of the criminal looters and arsonists and say, “Not in my name.”
Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and a former ambassador to Thailand. His website is douglasgibsonsouthafrica.com.
This article first appeared in The Star newspaper.