Zuma: Bad Guy, or Misunderstood Saint?

The crisis in the ANC stems from a simple question: is Jacob Zuma fit to be President of the ANC (which puts him in direct line to becoming President of South Africa)?

There is fairly strong evidence that Zuma is guilty. This evidence arises out of the trial of Schabir Shaik, the multi-millionaire businessman who acted as Zuma’s financial adviser. (Since when do big businessmen act as politicians’ “financial advisers” out of altruism?) Shaik was found guilty of having paid millions into Zuma’s bank account, and having solicited millions more to be paid by the French arms company Thint, at the time when the contracts for a major arms deal had not been completed. At the time, Zuma would have been bankrupt were it not for Shaik’s payments. After Shaik’s payments, Shaik’s company received the contract to provide South Africa with drivers’ licences. The Minister of Transport at the time had been, like Shaik, a former member of ANC Intelligence, which had been headed by Zuma in his last years of exile. Thus there could have been cronyism as well as nepotism involved in these criminal dealings.

In law, this doesn’t prove Zuma guilty, but it is a mountain of evidence which fatally blackens his name. The only way for him to defend his position, or else to help his long-standing friend and comrade Shaik, was to allow himself to be called into the witness-box during the trial. He said, before the trial began, that he would welcome the opportunity to clear his name in court. He chose not to do this. It would have been risky — Zuma would have needed a powerful defense, but he has been retaining some of the most expensive lawyers in the country since well before Shaik went on trial. The fact is that when he had the chance to protect himself, he decided not to. This strongly suggests that he did not go into the witness-box because he was afraid that he would only come out of it in handcuffs.

The end of Shaik’s trial appeared to be the end of Zuma’s career. President Mbeki had refused to speak against Zuma or to act against him in any way during Shaik’s trial, but when Shaik was found guilty, under the circumstances, President Mbeki had no choice but to remove Zuma from his office, for it was clear that Zuma was in danger of indictment. The interesting thing about this was that it was a removal; Zuma refused to resign, claiming that it would have been an admission of guilt, which was not true.

While this is unpleasant it is not unprecedented. B J Vorster’s heir apparent Connie Mulder had to resign from the Cabinet as a result of the corruption uncovered in his Ministry of Information. (This was almost certainly due to a series of leaks probably orchestrated by Mulder’s rival P W Botha.) Vorster himself was hastily “promoted” to the then-ceremonial position of State President, but nevertheless had to leave office when the exposed scale of the corruption proved to embrace him. The thing of concern is that even though Mulder was utterly corrupt, he did not permit himself to be publicly fired; he resigned after losing the Prime Ministerial race. Similarly, when U.S. President Richard Nixon’s Vice-President, Spiro Agnew, was investigated for income tax evasion and corruption (for which he was eventually jailed), Agnew resigned. Corruption in high places is not new. What is new is that Zuma was not prepared to accept that the accusation of corruption needed to be resolved before he could hold high office — in other words, that corruption is not necessarily such a bad thing that the taint of it makes you unelectable.

An innocent man should face prosecution without fear, unless, of course, he is being framed. Was Zuma framed? This would have to mean that the evidence against Shaik was manufactured, including the vast sums paid into Zuma’s bank account by Shaik and others, which Zuma did not deny existed. It is very difficult to manufacture such accusations without any flaw, for people tend to keep their bank statements, and if Zuma could have shown that no such payments existed, both the case against him and against Shaik would have collapsed.

The alternative would have been that back in the late 1990s, before it was even certain that Mbeki would be President and Zuma Vice-President, someone had fooled with Zuma’s bank account and with Shaik’s correspondence. Why do this? It seems an absurd amount of effort to go to simply to have something to charge Zuma with in the event that he was put in a position where someone might need to charge him.

The only person who had a real interest in framing Zuma was Mbeki. But Mbeki did his best to promote Zuma, keeping him in the Deputy President’s office for six years. Why promote a man if you trust him so little that you want a secret way of charging him?

Did he want to get rid of Zuma to make room for a more suitable successor? Mbeki undoubtedly did not want Zuma for President; he appointed him largely for his Zulu identity, as part of the programme to keep Inkatha weak and to win KwaZulu-Natal for the ANC. There is little doubt that Mbeki actually wanted Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, coincidentally Zuma’s divorced wife, as his successor. However, while Dlamini-Zuma was popular in the ANC, there were qualms about promoting women to high office which Mbeki had to overcome, and there was also the problem that the media was intensely hostile to Dlamini-Zuma. (When Zuma was fired, he was replaced by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who was a woman but was also not a credible presidential contender.) There was surely going to be time to ensure that Zuma did not win the succession race at the 2007 National Conference; there was no need to disgrace the party, the office and indeed Mbeki’s own judgement by having Zuma investigated for criminal activities.

Or, did he want to charge Zuma to distract attention from something else, such as his own crimes? Mbeki has been frequently accused of illegal activity around the arms deal, although no evidence has surfaced despite a decade of investigation. The trouble is, however, that charging Zuma of corruption in the arms deal simply focuses attention on that corruption, and sets a precedent for the removal of someone from high office for corruption. It really isn’t the kind of thing a corrupt person would do. Moreover, if Mbeki had been engaged in corruption, Zuma was his right-hand man and was very involved in the arms deal. It was extremely likely that Zuma would have evidence of some or other corruption which Mbeki had participated in. Once fired and charged, Zuma would have no reason to keep silent. Again, this isn’t the behaviour of a corrupt person. It is much more likely that Mbeki got rid of Zuma because he saw no way of not getting rid of Zuma, and he was not afraid of anything Zuma could do in return.

In this, of course, he was making the biggest mistake of his life.

Is there any other evidence that there is anything wrong with Zuma? Well, there is the evidence led in his rape trial. Whether or not you think the trial was flawed, he admitted to having adulterous unprotected sex with an HIV+ woman. (The circumstances of the sex do seem as if the woman was not a truly willing participant, whatever Zuma’s lawyers said.) At the time he was the head of the Moral Regeneration Movement. Is adulterous forced sex really conducive to moral regeneration? It appears rather hypocritical to lecture people about morality which you do not share. At the time he was in charge of the ANC’s HIV/AIDS programme, fully supported by the Treatment Action Campaign. It appears rather hypocritical to promote the “abstain, be faithful, or wear a condom” mantra while failing to follow those principles yourself. There is perhaps nothing surprising about being a hypocritical politician, but the sheer crassness of all this is striking, and the excuses made for this — that Zuma had apologised (though showing no signs of refusing to do it all again whenever he wished) — are facile and foolish. Zuma’s personal life suggests an immorality which correlates with his political record.

After the allegations were made against Zuma by the head of the “Scorpions” (the Department of Justice’s investigatory force) Bulelani Ngcuka, the response came from Schabir’s brother Mo. This response was to accuse Ngcuka of being a spy for the apartheid regime before 1994. As it turned out. Mo Shaik had been an ANC intelligence agent under Zuma and had retained documentation about alleged apartheid spies. Ngcuka had been a prominent member of the ANC for some time, and had been head of the Scorpions for years, but Shaik had never shared his information with either the government or the party.

The only conclusion to draw from this was that he was holding back damaging information for purposes of personal gain — blackmail or intimidation. Despite this disgusting behaviour (which would have been disgusting even if the claim had not turned out to be false) Mo Shaik remains a key adviser for Zuma today. Also, very disturbingly, this kind of behaviour — falsely bringing the organisation into disrepute by deploying information which you wrongfully kept secret from the organisation — is guaranteed expulsion material in any organisation. Yet Mo Shaik remains a member of the ANC, never brought in for any kind of disciplinary hearing. The only conclusion to draw from this is that Zuma was protecting him — possibly with the assistance of Kgalema Motlanthe, ANC Secretary-General who is ultimately responsible for disciplinary matters, and who is now Zuma’s Deputy President.

What this means is that the people around Zuma, people who were very often involved in the ANC intelligence arm which Zuma headed, appear to be dishonest, and that their dishonesty is protected by Zuma. A murkier case is the case of Billy Masetlha, another former Zuma underling, who became head of the National Intelligence Agency (despite its name this organisation is devoted to politically spying on South Africans — the SA Secret Service is the foreign spy agency). Masetlha claimed to have evidence that there was a vast Mbeki-ite conspiracy against Zuma, based on alleged e-mails from ANC leaders he had intercepted. He claimed he’d been told to intercept the e-mails. He couldn’t provide evidence of being told to do so. There were counter-claims that he’d worked together with an IT person to fabricate the e-mails. Meanwhile Mbeki honcho Saki Macozoma discovered that his house was practically surrounded with NIA agents who had been sent there very ostentatiously on Masetlha’s orders. Masetlha was sacked. It’s hard to believe that all this doesn’t amount to misconduct (although Masetlha’s trial has been strangely delayed), and also hard to believe that it had nothing to do with Zuma trying to avoid prosecution.

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