Zuma's big book

Andrew Donaldson says the President deserves some quiet time alone to complete his autobiography


DESPITE reports that it will reveal the “greatest details” of his contribution to the ever-expanding canon of revolutionary apocrypha, the publishing houses remain curiously indifferent to Jacob Zuma’s threats that he is to shortly write his life story.

Perhaps they have their reasons, these beige types in redoubtable corduroy of a certain ply who whiffle up and down the walnut-panelled corridors at Faber & Faber and suchlike. 

But here at the Mahogany Ridge we wonder if an opportunity is not being squandered. Reach out to Accused Number One, the thinking goes, publish his scribblings — and there is every chance the results could fire the imagination of the culturati and invite comparison with Swift or even Cervantes.

Readers will recall that Zuma first hinted that there was a book lurking somewhere deep within him in January last year. 

“When I retire in a few years’ time,” he was quoted as saying, “I will have time to write and I will say this is what black people did to their son who went to school and educated himself. They tortured him… when he was given responsibility. 

“But he did not care about being tortured because he had been tortured before. I will explain it and tell you who tortured me. I will just be telling a story.”

Put it down to the fugue that comes with the post-festive season period, but it beggars belief that the gospel according to Jacob Christ was not rushed into print there and then. Here, after all, were all the makings of a potential local best-seller: messianic delusion, every manner of persecution complex, and lashings of ubuntu whimsy. 

Much of the same was doled out on Wednesday, when the thief in chief turned up at the scrubbish bit of bosveld in the North West that is now the Groot Marico Heritage Site and Liberation Heritage Route of Bokone Bophirima. 

It was here that Zuma unveiled a monument to himself on the site where he was arrested by security police and taken into custody in June 1963. 

The monument itself is rather strange; it’s six metres tall and consists of a number of curved metal pipes holding aloft a large silver sphere featuring a portrait of Zuma.

Because they have no business in Zeerust, most South Africans will probably never get to see the thing. This is perhaps a blessing. But there are those who feel that it has no place even in this remote backwater, and protesters there were reportedly dispersed with stun grenades, rubber bullets and a water cannon. Everyone’s a critic these days.

To be fair, it is not a particularly hideous work, and those who have studied it may even find in the piece a suggestion of the brutalist aesthetic that was once so fashionable in eastern European art in the 1970s. 

They may also see in the president’s portrait a strong resemblance to Elmer J Fudd, the rabbit-hunting Looney Tunes cartoon character. Some may even ponder the uncanny way the eyes appear to follow the women as they move around the monument.

But it once again reminds us that, when it comes to political kitsch, the ruling party’s appetite is boundless. And, of course, these self-aggrandising works do reinforce long-held convictions that that such monuments only be erected subject to certain conditions: (a) the individual thus venerated was an honorable person, beyond reproach; and (b) is quite dead. 

As matters presently stand, our president is now sadly only capable of satisfying one of these conditions.

Still, there is something quite touching about his clumsy attempts at building a legacy, and this monument is another awkward example of that quest. 

At the unveiling, Zuma recalled the circumstances of his arrest. He and other would-be freedom fighters, 52 in total, had left Johannesburg for the Botswana border in four kombis and a sedan driven by their commander, one Lombard Mbatha. All were picked up by the security police.

He went on to say the monument was important because it told of events that he would never forget. Elsewhere some cheeky wags suggested that the Saxonwold Shebeen also be declared a monument, for Zuma was captured there as well.

And then came another hint of that impending memoir. As he put it, “I am giving you snippets because I am going to write a book with the greatest details including what happened.”

But enough talk already. Just sit down and write the thing. We know of several places that are quiet, secure and free from distraction. Who knows? Maybe there’s another Cold Stone Jug in the making here.

This article first appeared in the Weekend Argus.