Treachery courses through Zuma’s veins


Treachery courses through Zuma’s veins

His ancestors collaborated with the British against the Zulu king, and a few generations later he colluded with an Indian family and the Russians to surrender the country, writes PIET CROUCAMP.


THE Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture led by Chief Justice Raymond Zondo focused, at least in part, on the likelihood that Jacob Zuma, during his nine years as president of South Africa, sold out the country to the Guptas, a wealthy and influential business family from India. But Zuma's refusal to testify before the commission, which ultimately led to his imprisonment, has a long history. In fact, it has a history of almost 145 years.

The albatross of betrayal of the blood of his own people is recorded in the history of Zuma and that of his clan, the Nxamalalas. It is a stigma from which he, his children and his ancestors cannot escape. A precolonial betrayal that creates context for what led to the Zondo Commission's findings as well as the creation of the uMkhonto weSizwe Party (MKP) in December 2023.

Last week I stood in the Electoral Commission results centre in Gallagher estate's convention centre talking to Bloomberg stalwart Antony Sguazzin. On the monumental electronic scoreboard at the front of the hall, a political reality crystallised that could redefine South Africa's political present and the ANC's future. It became clear that the MKP was not only taking over the ANC's support base in KwaZulu-Natal but also sending deep roots into Mpumalanga and Gauteng. Data analyst Wayne Sussman, who picked up this trend among prospective voters in his polls weeks ago, refers to it as a perfect storm that has hit voter politics in those three provinces.

As we stared dumbfounded at the results coming in from KZN, Sguazzin reminded me of an article Jacob Dlamini wrote for Business Day on 31 July 2015 about the history of the Zulus and the obscure role of Zuma and the Nxamalalas. Dlamini, winner of the 2015 Alan Paton book prize for Askari: A Story of Collaboration and Betrayal in the Anti-Apartheid Struggle, describes Zuma as a descendant of “collaborators". This is how he ended his article: “Perhaps it is time that South Africans are made aware of this obscure past of betrayal as part of the larger past of Nkandla." In the nomenclature of the liberation struggle and with reference to Dlamini's book, Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma's ancestors were askaris.

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

For context: Zuma was born in the rural area of ​​Nkandla, an area now considered the heartland of his support base. He is sometimes referred to as JZ or by his clan names Nxamalala and Msholozi. His middle name, Gedleyihlekisa, means “one who smiles while harming you". I couldn't find any information about his parents' reasons for the name — maybe tradition dictated it — but “Gedleyihlekisa" connects Zuma's present with his genealogical past.

His progress through the structures of the ANC and MK was seamless. In 1959, at the age of 17, he joined the ANC and ended up serving a 10-year sentence on Robben Island as a political prisoner. In 1975 he went into exile and progressed to head the ANC's intelligence structures. After the unbanning of the party in 1990, Zuma became its deputy secretary-general in 1991 and chairperson in 1994. In 1997 he was elected deputy president.

In 2014, the then public protector, Thuli Madonsela, found that Zuma improperly benefited from government expenditure on upgrades to his Nkandla homestead, and in 2016 the Constitutional Court ruled that he had failed to honour the oath that he would serve the country and protect the constitution at all costs. By 2016, South African politics was being defined by allegations that the Gupta family had acquired a corrupting influence on Zuma's administration. The prevailing term was state capture. The name Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma was living up to the disgrace of the past. He conspired with the imperial interests of an Indian family to sell out South Africa.

Several weeks after Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was elected to succeed Zuma as leader during the ANC's 54th national conference at Nasrec, Johannesburg, in December 2017, the party's national executive committee recalled the “chief of Nkandla". After a fifth vote of no confidence in the National Assembly, he finally resigned on February 14, 2018 and was replaced by Ramaphosa as president of the republic.

Jacob Dlamini.
Jacob Dlamini.

Let's go back 145 years to the roots of the name Gedleyihlekisa. In 1879, as part of a precolonial policy in Southern Africa, the British nearly destroyed the Zulu kingdom. As a military superpower, the brave Zulu warriors of Cetshwayo, who had only the most basic armour, were no match for the British.

Cetshwayo is referred to in our codified history as “the last great king of the independent Zulus". He was the son of Zulu King Mpande and Queen Ngqumbazi, half-nephew of Zulu King Shaka and grandson of Senzangakhona. In 1856, he defeated and killed his younger brother Mbuyazi, Mpande's favourite, in the Battle of Ndondakusuka.

The British needed much more than their sophisticated weapons to defeat the Zulus in 1879. Collaborators were also needed — Zulu collaborators — and many were available. After the violent establishment of the Zulu kingdom under Shaka in the early 19th century, many communities harboured cultural and political resentment against the centralised Zulu authority and Cetshwayo.

When the British began looking for allies against Cetshwayo, they found more than enough Africans to help them confront and defeat the Zulu kingdom. Among the collaborators were the ancestors of Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma. The Zumas did not help build the Zulu kingdom, they helped the British in their attempt to destroy it.

But it wasn't just the Zumas and Nxamalalas (Zuma's clan) who became “collaborators" (what we call “askaris" today). Nor were they the only ones who got land in exchange for their collaboration. In the same year the British defeated the Zulu kingdom, they also destroyed the Pedi kingdom. Boer commandos and thousands of Swazi collaborators assisted the British in that campaign.

Dlamini quotes historian Meghan Healy-Clancy and anthropologist Jason Hickel who write in their 2014 book Ekhaya: The politics of home in KwaZulu-Natal, “Nkandla is actually the spoils of collaboration, given to the Zumas for their role in the defeat of the Zulu kingdom.” Healy-Clancy and Hickel point to the irony that Zuma used Nkandla to stand up for Zulu nationalism and show respect for his ancestors and their traditions at a time when those ancestors were “collaborators" against the Zulu kingdom.

The research does not have any political ambition to undermine Zuma. Healy-Clancy and Hickel draw on the work of John Wright and Jeff Guy, leading scholars of precolonial and colonial Zulu history, to make their case. Wright delved into the most extensive collection of research on precolonial Zulu history, the James Stuart Archive.

As Mbongiseni Buthelezi writes in his work on the Ndwandwe and the historian Michael R Mahoney in his 2012 book The Other Zulus: The Spread of Zulu Ethnicity in Colonial SA, there were many so-called Zulus who did not want to be identified as Zulu in the precolonial era. The Ndwandwes, for example, were defeated by the Zulu kingdom and then forced to become Zulus. Many of these people spoke the same language and intermarried but they did not want to identify as Zulu. As Mahoney writes in his book: “It (was) only after the Bambatha rebellion of 1906 that the concept of a Zulu nation and the kingdom of KwaZulu-Natal was established."

The process by which the Zulu kingdom was established was gradual rather than immediate. For their subversion of Cetshwayo, the Zumas, like many other Africans who collaborated with the British Empire, were rewarded with land that had already belonged to the Zulu kingdom since 1879. This is also one of the reasons the Ndwandwe today still have nagging questions about land that historically belonged to all the Zulus but which was first held in trust by King Goodwill Zwelithini and now by Misuzulu Zulu. For historical reasons that have to do with a resistance to a history of “war, victory and occupation", they have never really accepted the authority of the royal house.

Jonny Steinberg writes, also in Business Day, that contrary to the stereotype that Jacob Zuma is a politician with a well-formulated vision, his outlook on life excludes the ordinary people of KZN. In an attempt to correct his ancestors' past sins, during his leadership of the ANC he decentralised political power in the province to a small traditional elite (chiefs).

In the process, in 2009 the ANC finally succeeded in taking over administrative and political control of KZN with the necessary condonation of Zwelithini and with an absolute majority in the provincial legislature. In his understanding of reality, Zuma brought “the last outpost" back to the Zulu kingdom.

But this glory would always be time-bound. History tells a story of Zuma's ancestors selling out the Zulu nation to the British Empire. Fewer than 145 years later, Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, with a characteristic grin and booming laugh in the national legislature of South Africa, handed Mzansi to the Guptas on a silver platter. The curse of his ancestors and family endures.

According to the journalist and co-author of Nuclear: Inside South Africa's Secret Deal, Karyn Maughan, South Africans should try to remember 2014. This was when Zuma claimed he almost died from a poisoning attempt. Zuma believed he was the target of an assassination attempt by Western powers and that only his friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the expertise of Russian doctors saved him. Just 17 days after his return from Moscow, he wanted to sign the Rosatom nuclear deal with Russia to build eight nuclear plants at an estimated cost of about R1 trillion, an agreement that would have left South Africa's posterity at the mercy of the Russians.

Sguazzin tells of the day after Zuma's arrest when he addressed the media. Somewhere in his attempt to defend himself against the “ANC of Ramaphosa", he cynically remarked: “The apartheid police came for you, but this lot come for your family, your children." If Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma could, he would have erased the shame in which his ancestors and his children have historically been plunged. But he can't. He can't help himself. He is an Nxamalala.

♦ VWB ♦

BE PART OF THE CONVERSATION: Go to the bottom of this page to share your opinion. We look forward to hearing from you.

Speech Bubbles

To comment on this article, register (it's fast and free) or log in.

First read Vrye Weekblad's Comment Policy before commenting.