USING an uncomfortable metaphor: the cancer named Jacob Zuma has now been cut out of the ANC but it has already spread to the rest of the body. The chemotherapy applied in the last few years was too weak and entirely ineffective.
In the 112-year history of the ANC, the name Gedleyihlekisa Zuma will ultimately receive more mentions than much nobler spirits such as Pixley ka Isaka Seme, Sol Plaatje, John Dube and Albert Luthuli.
These leaders, and later Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu, were the moral giants who, after South Africa's statehood in 1910, mobilised the country's black population across language and class boundaries in a national resistance movement against three centuries of colonialism and white domination. Later, supporters from minority groups were involved as well.
Today, this movement is largely discredited as inherently corrupt and inept, risking relegation to the opposition benches after 30 years in power.
Zuma is the foremost symbol of this decline.
His election as ANC leader in Polokwane on December 18, 2007, halted the natural evolution of the ANC from a liberation movement to a ruling party in a modern constitutional state; it reversed the achievements of Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.
Every major national movement necessarily has light and dark sides. It is the leadership's task to restrain the dark side, which Mandela and even Mbeki did reasonably successfully.
After Polokwane, the dark side took control of the ANC and the more ethical, democratic side quickly submitted to the new culture.
The genie was out of the bottle.
I encountered Zuma twice before 1990 in Lusaka. My first impression was that he was an affable, courteous guy, but I soon realised, after further conversations with others in his party in exile, that he was a semi-literate Zulu traditionalist and co-leader of the ANC's murderous internal security machinery.
At that time, and after his return in 1990, I repeatedly received assurances from his senior comrades: Msholozi is our head Zulu, we must tolerate him, but there can never be talk of a senior leadership position.
After 1994, more than one senior ANC leader fed me information that Zuma was probably responsible for the murder of a talented young Zulu-speaking uMkhonto we Sizwe leader he saw as a threat, Muziwakhe Ngwenya (nom de guerre Thami Zulu), in November 1989.
I investigated and wrote about it on multiple occasions, including in my 2014 book A Rumour of Spring: “Zuma has never successfully explained how he, as head of intelligence and one of those who ordered Zulu’s detention, had no knowledge of the man’s detention and indeed maltreatment, and why he didn’t order his release after it became clear he wasn’t an apartheid agent. Often, when I see Zuma in public or on television, I think to myself: was this man, my country’s president, at least partly responsible for the vicious torture and murder of an innocent and brave man?"
On July 26, 1996, Ngwenya's parents indirectly pointed fingers at Zuma before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and demanded further investigation of their son's murder.
The ANC leadership, then with Mandela as president, half-heartedly investigated the murder and covered it up.
It was part of a larger ANC cardinal sin: not one of these corrupt, murderous MK leaders who imprisoned, tortured and executed their own soldiers was ever held accountable. On the contrary, these people were treated as heroes after 1990 and some of them obtained senior positions or were otherwise honoured.
This is where the cancer got a foothold. The ANC fought vigorously to expose the abuses of the old military and police but vehemently rejected any attempt to expose its own abuses during the exile era, including corruption.
The ANC sanctimoniously helped draft a constitution with wonderful human rights guarantees, but for the ANC itself it was just a piece of paper.
Other ANC leaders engaged in lip service but Zuma was bald-faced about it: the ANC is untouchable; the ANC is the state. It's our turn to eat. Theft of public funds is an acceptable form of black empowerment.
And with this credo, he was president of the republic for nine years. The ANC defended him tooth and nail with every scandal: his chaotic personal life and a charge of raping the young daughter of his old comrade; the construction of his Nkandla villa with state funds; his outspoken hatred of homosexuality; his corrupt relationship with Schabir Shaik; his distribution of large chunks of the state to crooks like the Gupta brothers in exchange for the enrichment of his clan and friends; his hollowing out of state institutions like the prosecuting authority and the revenue service to spare him and his crooked friends from prosecution; his unlawful deal with Vladimir Putin of Russia for a nuclear power plant.
According to testimony before the Zondo commission, some of Zuma's cabinet members even oversaw state security's illegal detention of his young wife, Nompumelelo Ntuli, who allegedly tried to poison him (he actually suspected she slept with one of his bodyguards). The then Minister of State Security, Ayanda Dlodlo, vigorously tried to prevent this testimony from being presented.
Zuma appointed Cyril Ramaphosa as deputy president on May 26, 2014. For almost four years, Ramaphosa mostly remained silent about the Zuma shitshow around him. Current cabinet members such as Gwede Mantashe and Blade Nzimande were leading Zuma champions. The ANC leadership repeatedly saved Zuma from parliamentary censure.
They waited until his term as ANC leader expired in December 2017. Then, with increasing pressure from the media, civil society and the business sector, Ramaphosa stepped forward and challenged Zuma's proxy, his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, in the leadership election and narrowly won.
But the cancer continued to eat away. Ramaphosa and his camp also considered ANC interests higher than those of the country. Party unity was more important than reform, clean and effective governance, and robust economic growth.
Instead of starting with a clean slate, Ramaphosa appointed various Zuma disciples to his cabinet, people like Dlamini-Zuma, Bathabile Dlamini, Nomvula Mokonyane, Siyabonga Cwele and Dlodlo, plus, of course, Mantashe and Nzimande.
Ramaphosa went even further: he retained the former Minister of State Security, David Mahlobo, who was Zuma's point man in the Kremlin and carried bags bulging with cash to Nkandla, and appointed him as deputy minister; and Mahlobo's right-hand man, protector of Zuma Arthur Fraser, who blatantly abused state security as his own ATM, was appointed head of correctional services.
It was Zuma supporters who plunged KwaZulu-Natal and parts of greater Johannesburg into an orgy of violence and looting in July 2021.
We had to watch helplessly as Zuma mocked and undermined our judiciary. The man who is now rallying votes for a new party nationwide is officially on medical parole because he is allegedly on his deathbed.
For years, Ramaphosa told everyone who wondered about this “new Cyril" that the Zuma faction, the RETs, were hamstringing him and preventing him from governing effectively.
The RET faction has finally exhausted itself and hit the road even before Zuma was kicked out of the ANC: Ace Magashule, Carl Niehaus, Mzwanele Manyi, Dudu Myeni, Busisiwe Mkhwebane and others.
But even his victory over his foremost RET enemies did not free Ramaphosa.
The spirit of the Zuma era still reigns in Luthuli House.
The ANC is no less corrupt and incompetent today than when Zuma was at his strongest, even though the prosecuting authority and the revenue service are being rebuilt.
The ANC leadership in KZN, now warning voters against Zuma and his MK Party, treated him as a national hero just a month ago, organising blue-light convoys for him and his son Duduzane.
Perhaps, as ordinary citizens, we can thank Zuma for contributing to the ANC's decline and inevitable downfall (but when?), but the price we paid as a nation and a state was very, very high.
Zuma's ghost will haunt us for a long time to come.
♦ VWB ♦
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