The blood on Zuma’s hands


The blood on Zuma’s hands

Jacob Zuma, the man who now threatens to make South Africa ungovernable, has over the years gotten away with murder — perhaps literally. He was the Teflon man, the Zulu strongman no one wanted to confront. MAX DU PREEZ lays out the evidence against him in the murder of a promising young uMkhonto weSizwe officer in 1989.


JACOB Zuma faces no single charge related to state capture, even though we all know he pawned pieces of our state to the Gupta brothers; that he hollowed out state institutions like the revenue service for his and his benefactors' benefit; that bags of cash, state money from the intelligence service, were regularly delivered to his house.

He almost got away with fraud at his Nkandla estate, firepool and all — only the media and a former public protector stood in his way, and he got a slap on the wrist.

In 2005, he escaped a conviction on the charge of raping a young lesbian woman, the daughter of an old uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) friend. The ANC rallied behind him and demonised the woman to the point that she fled the country. The ANC even stood by him when he explained that he knew the woman was HIV-positive but he took a shower afterwards.

We know he lied about one of his wives, Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma, poisoning him — state doctors found no poison in his system and the criminal investigation was dropped. We also know that his minister of state security, David Mahlobo, illegally detained Ntuli-Zuma. This is same Mahlobo who, according to testimony at the Zondo commission, delivered bags of cash to him, the same Mahlobo whom Cyril Ramaphosa later appointed as a deputy minister.

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The documented evidence that Zuma received R1 million a month from the company Royal Security after he became president and never paid income tax on it has never been refuted.

We know that Zuma repeatedly lied about so-called intelligence dossiers that he used to slander his critics and brand some as apartheid spies.

Each of these transgressions — and the list is much longer — should have been enough to stop him in his tracks and remove him from the political arena.

He was charged alongside Schabir Shaik for receiving bribes in the arms scandal, but he has been evading his trial for almost 30 years.

But the most serious charge against him stems from his days as the ANC's head of intelligence before he returned from exile in 1990: complicity in murder, or perhaps murder itself.

The victim's name was Muzewakhe Ngwenya, whose nom de guerre was Thami Zulu — TZ, as everyone called him.

I have written about him before, including in my 2014 book A Rumour of Spring, and made a documentary about him, but the picture has since become clearer.

I think it is important to remind South Africans today of these events, including the roughly 2 million people who voted for Zuma last week.

TZ’s parents, both Zulu-speaking, were respected middle-class people from Soweto, his father a school principal and his mother a teacher. He was a bright student and they could afford to send him to a private school in Swaziland (now Eswatini), Waterford.

He matriculated there and studied at the University of Swaziland, but in 1975, six months before the Soweto uprisings, he joined MK. TZ was trained in the Soviet Union then appointed as chief of staff of the MK base Novo Catengue in Angola.

Senior MK leaders Joe Slovo and Chris Hani recognised his talents and invited him to the SA Communist Party congress in East Berlin in 1979.

In 1983, TZ was promoted to commander of MK’s operation in Natal, stationed in Swaziland. He was only 29.

Zuma vehemently opposed the appointment. His argument was that TZ was a “Soweto boy" and had not grown up in Natal, but TZ's closest comrades believed Zuma, who had almost no formal education, felt threatened by the charismatic, sophisticated young Zulu. Zuma reportedly handpicked the fighters to be deployed in his home province and controlled them as the most senior Zulu in the organisation.

TZ quickly proved his mettle, and in 1985 he was one of the chairpersons at the ANC congress in Kabwe, Zambia. Stephen Ellis writes in his book External Mission: The ANC in Exile that Hani earmarked TZ as a future MK chief of staff.

One of his commanders in Angola, Ronnie Kasrils, described TZ in his book Armed and Dangerous as “an exceptionally handsome individual who looked every inch a soldier”. Kasrils says he liked and respected TZ.

The Swaziland command was a difficult one for MK. It was easy for the security police to infiltrate MK ranks. After the Nkomati Accord with Mozambique in 1984, the Swazi government worked even more closely with the South African Police (SAP).

TZ was at one point detained by the Swazi police and deported to Zambia but was later allowed to return. His predecessor had been betrayed by a spy and shot dead by the SAP.

In June 1988, nine of TZ’s men were shot dead in two ambushes just after they crossed the border.

TZ’s deputy, Ralph Mgcina, was summoned to Lusaka, where he allegedly confessed to working for the South African security police. He was shortly thereafter killed in detention by members of the ANC’s intelligence and security department, NAT.

Zuma was appointed head of intelligence in January 1987, making him the deputy director of NAT.

There was a power struggle and severe friction between NAT, also known as Mbokodo (grindstone), and the military leaders of MK, especially Hani.

NAT detained MK members at the slightest suspicion and, according to testimony before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and various books published after 1994, tortured many fighters and executed some.

TZ’s father, Philemon Ngwenya, testified before the TRC in June 1996 that he heard in 1989 that his son was in detention in Lusaka. He and his wife flew to the Zambian capital and met the ANC secretary-general, Alfred Nzo, and Zuma.

Zuma denied that TZ was in detention and had him fetched to see his parents. TZ asked his parents to retract the inquiries his father had made with the International Red Cross because they were an embarrassment to the ANC. He said there was a “minor domestic matter” that would soon be resolved.

TZ was then a “healthy, strong young man”, even slightly overweight, his parents testified. Read the transcript of the TRC testimony here. Here is a video of it that we broadcast at the time on the TRC Special Report

Six months later, TZ’s wife called them and said, “TZ was now in a cell and in solitary confinement and that he was being tortured”.

TZ’s father flew to Lusaka again but no ANC leader wanted to speak to him. He went to the building where TZ was being held, the Green House, but the guard said he could visit his son only if Zuma gave permission.

He waited for days at the Green House but Zuma refused to see him. Zuma then sent word through the guard that he would bring TZ to the hotel but this never happened, Ngwenya testified.

“Why was I not allowed by Mr Zuma to see my son for 18 days? Even under the most cruel regime, the apartheid regime, people were allowed visitors.”

In December 1989, 14 months after his son was locked up, he was informed that TZ had been released but that he was a “bag of bones”.

TZ died five days after being freed. He was 35 years old.

The ANC said he died of Aids but a postmortem found that he had been poisoned with diazinon. A forensic expert said it was clear that the poison had been administered in two bottles of beer in the last few days of his detention.

Paul Trewhela, a disillusioned veteran communist, wrote that the murderers must have been among the people who had access to him between November 13 and 15 and that they were probably “very senior” ANC leaders.

The ANC appointed advocate Albie Sachs, later a justice of the Constitutional Court, to lead a commission of inquiry into TZ’s death. Sachs confirmed that he had been poisoned in detention but did not try to find out who the culprits were.

The ANC, in its submissions to the TRC through Thabo Mbeki, denied responsibility for his death or that he was ever tortured and mistreated.

A few weeks after TZ’s death, one of his comrades, Thabo Twala, was beaten to death in detention in Lusaka by Mbokodo members.

MK officially declared at the time that no shred of evidence had ever been found that TZ was anything other than a loyal, capable soldier of the ANC. The two top leaders of MK, Modise and Hani, praised him in glowing terms at his funeral as a hero, a “giant and gallant fighter”.

ANC veteran Pallo Jordan, later a minister in Nelson Mandela's cabinet, wrote at the time in a letter to the MK leadership: “We have never offered a credible explanation for Zulu’s death.”

Hani, who reportedly repeatedly warned in the last months of TZ’s detention that he might be killed by Mbokodo, told two South African journalists, David Beresford and Phillip van Niekerk, after 1990 that TZ was a victim of “paranoia and hysteria about the ability of the regime to send in agents”. From their reports, in the London Guardian and the Weekly Mail, it seems Hani himself pointed the finger at Zuma.

TZ’s parents, who remained loyal ANC supporters, clearly believed that NAT killed their son and specifically made the point before the TRC that TZ had told them there was “bad blood” between him and Zuma.

His mother recounted how much support their son received from MK. “The people who were not working with him, that is the security, is the group that had something to do with him. That contradiction, which shows that there was a little clique.

“One of the papers quoted that there was a struggle of power. And of course we know, my son said it when we had gone to see him the last time, in Zambia. He said that there was bad blood between him and Jacob Zuma. It was mentioned in a number of papers that Jacob Zuma was not happy that he was appointed a commander in Natal.”

Trewhela, once the editor of the MK publication Freedom Fighter and later Searchlight Africa, and himself a former political prisoner, wrote a few years ago:

“Clearly, the murderer — or the one who ordered the murder — must be a very powerful person within the ANC, which covers up for this person because either (a) the ANC takes responsibility for the murder, but does not want the truth to come out; or (b) is too frightened to bring the alleged perpetrator to face trial. And what could such a protected murderer go on to do, knowing that he or she is above the law? This killer remains the boss of a mafia state, not a constitutional democracy.”

Zuma himself has, as far as I can ascertain, never commented on TZ’s death.

It seems obvious that Hani and Modise must have known who killed TZ. Both saw him in his last days. If they knew, Oliver Tambo, Thabo Mbeki and the rest of the leadership also knew.

If Sachs had interviewed the guards at the Green House — and Zuma — and conducted a proper investigation, he would have found out.

But the old culture of cover-up and circling the wagons in the ANC — and the fear of confronting the most powerful Zulu in the organisation — prevented the truth from ever being sought.

And then he eventually became the president of a democratic South Africa, leaving devastation in his wake, and today he is the man on whom our stability depends.

♦ VWB ♦

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