Zuma Exposed: Book Review

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in Journalism

South African President Jacob Zuma addressing the African National Congress leadership meeting in Durban on September 20, 2010. Zuma reaffirmed leadership of the ruling party amid an ongoing debate over the future of the national democratic revolution. by Pan-African News Wire File Photos

Kept man: Jacob Zuma
Photo: Pan African News Wire
Flickr.com

Jacob Zuma is a man of gargantuan appetites. According to Gareth van Onselen, a senior analyst with the Democratic Alliance (DA), Zuma has cost the South African taxpayer R754 million over five years, broken down as follows:

R12,3 million       Salary over five years

R6,5 million         Medical aid

R2,75 million       Pension fund

R77,6 million       Spousal support

R3,67 million       Private vehicle

R234 million        VIP flights

R10 million          Additional flights

R72 million          Helicopter flights

R8,2 million         Ferry flights

R26,5 million       Accommodation – official residences

R238 million        Private residence

R60 million          VIP protection

R2,1 million         Hotels

All of this is detailed in Adriaan Basson’s newly released Zuma Exposed. It makes for disturbing reading.

Turn the page and we find that Zuma has six wives, four girlfriends and 21 children.

Turn the next page and we find his sons, daughters and wives involved in upwards of 70 companies, trusts or foundations. There is hardly a corner of the South African economy that his patrimony has not embraced.

Any utterance from the Zuma camp about the urgency of redressing inequalities in SA should be weighed against the above indictment.

When confronted with serious allegations of racketeering or fraud, the stock response is to plead a “political conspiracy.” This is precisely what de-frocked ANC Youth leader Julius Malema did when faced with charges of financial impropriety. He simply took a leaf from the Zuma playbook.

There isn’t a whole lot new in this book for those who have been following Basson over the years as a journalist at Mail & Guardian and City Press, but it is handy to have a chronicle of Zuma’s almost unbelievable journey to the top of SA politics. One is left with the clear impression that he is a ward of the state, and a costly one at that. The book details the back-room dealings that derailed Zuma’s prosecution in the arms scandal, his stacking of key ministries with loyal cadres, his apparent willingness to burn the village to save it, and his out-of-control libido. It’s a long fall from Mandela to here.

Former president Nelson Mandela identified Zuma as a financial problem child, and paid R2 million to help him clear his debts in 2000, as detailed by Mail & Guardian.

Here’s how Basson describes Zuma’s strange and meteoric rise from kept man to president of SA, having toppled former president Thabo Mbeki as leader of the ANC at the Polokwane conference in 2007: “He became president because enough ANC branch members believed he was the victim of a conspiracy concocted by Mbeki, the first generation of BEE (Black Economic Empowerment) millionaires and the Scorpions (the now disbanded law enforcement unit). Mbeki’s so-called 1996 Class Project was also rejected by the left, who saw him as a cold-blooded capitalist with scant regard for the plight of workers and communists. Although Zuma had no track record in the union movement, he became a Trojan horse for desperate interest groups with bleak futures. And so they pushed a compromised man to the front because he had nothing to lose and was the only ANC leader brave enough to put Mbeki, who was seeking a third term as ANC leader, in his place.”

Basson also touches on another interesting aspect of Zuma’s staying power. He ran ANC intelligence from the mid-1980s, so he has the dirt on all the top people. This was an argument that came up when Zuma was facing corruption charges related to the R70 billion (the figure keeps getting bigger) arms deal. “Zuma’s suited strategists and grass roots supporters agreed: if this man starts to talk, he could take the party down,” writes Basson. “Such speculation was fuelled by Zuma himself, who told his supporters outside court that ‘one day’ he would reveal the identities of his persecutors.”

A court has already found that Zuma was part of a corrupt relationship with his former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, from whom he received more than R4 million in cash and benefits. In return, Shaik offered access to Zuma.  “Another court was to decide whether Zuma had accepted the money and benefits with a guilty mind. When the charges against him were dropped on the most dubious of legal grounds, Zuma had reason to be fearful.”

He took care of business by keeping the security portfolios in the clan, so to speak. Jeff Radebe became Minister of Justice, Nathi Mthethwa took over as Minister of Police, and Siyabonga Cwele was made Minister of State Security. All three were from his home province of KwaZulu Natal. Zuma protected them, even when Cwele’s wife was convicted of drug smuggling and Mthethwa “was exposed as a beneficiary of a dodgy crime intelligence slush fund.”

This book, says Basson, is not a biography. “I am an investigative journalist, interested only in the truth. Naturally, when a person is elected president of my country, I follow his every move and his money and interrogate every decision he makes in order to navigate through the bullshit and spin that South African journalists are increasingly being fed.”

In truth, Zuma has done precious little of benefit to South Africa. He has been woefully preoccupied with internecine battles in the grand cathedral of the ANC. This is the man who got off on rape charges, arguing in court that the sex was consensual, and protected himself against possible Aids infection by taking a shower afterwards. This is also the man who promised to champion a moral regeneration crusade in SA.

For those who argue that Zuma is indeed the victim of a political conspiracy, Basson provides evidence in the form of affidavits and charge sheets that at the very least cry out for rebuttal by the president.

Will he get his day in court? That remains to be seen.

That he is affable and a man of the people is beyond question. But how did a man so tainted by bad judgment and gross moral lapses end up president? It is a question that continues to baffle, even among the ANC faithful.

 

Ciaran Ryan

The Writer's Room is a curated by Ciaran Ryan, who has written on South African affairs for Sunday Times, Mail & Guardian, Financial Mail, Finweek, Noseweek, The Daily Telegraph, Forbes, USA Today, Acts Online and Lewrockwell.com, among others. In between he manages a gold mining operation in Ghana, and previously worked in Congo. Most of his time is spent in the lovely city of Joburg.