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The not-so-merry Zuma go-round

- Susan Booysen

“What has changed?” could be the question as Jacob Zuma makes his way towards his next court appearance in the Durban High Court this week.

Again, vigils and prayers are the order of the day. Equally, Friday is set to deliver another indecisive court appearance, the precursor to a multitude of further appearances in months if not years to come.

For the present, our fascination with Zuma in the dock is justified, both for reasons of the courtroom and of political context. As the pressures on Zuma mount, two sets of important developments materialise. First, there is a circle of mobilisation around him (mostly beyond the ANC but also in provincial ANC enclaves), with a view to constructing the idea of a Zuma of force. Second, there is the accumulation of Zuma’s own words and arguments. These illuminate both likely trial defence arguments and Zuma’s short- to medium-term political strategy.

Zuma’s rear-guard, fight-back actions have been growing feet. A few alternative churches and religious associations, some KwaZulu-Natal business (like taxi operators and small business that say Ramaphosa is not delivering to them) and mostly-incriminated individual Zuma associates are vocal, thriving in the media limelight. There are reports of mass meetings singing praises and saying prayers for the protection of their “persecuted” icon. There is talk (or threats) of a new political party, the “African Transformation Congress” with extra-ANC origins, therefore not a split. The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, for example, appears not to be in this loop. However, intra-ANC, Supra Mahumapelo and Mosebenzi Zwane are on a reported North West, Free State and KZN crusade, mobilising ANC branches to ask Luthuli House for a special National General Council meeting … and they are feeding on Zuma’s motivational pearls of subterfuge and subversion.

The name Zuma is by now synonymous with manipulative, calculated strategy. Zuma is also a wounded man in a corner. His list of options has shrunk since losing his proxy Nasrec war, and the Ramaphosaist noose of state clean-up is tightening (only to be interpreted by his corner band as purges). We know by now that Zuma will feign innocence and ignorance, even simplicity when he needs artillery. He knows all about minimising paper trails and inverting pointed fingers. He will not hesitate to declare his undying love for the ANC, while drawing the dagger to deal with the “traitors of Ramaphosa”.

Zuma is on a tiny, now-or-never platform – and his strategy is one of pulling down the pillars of the ANC and government under Ramaphosa. This clearly emerges in a string of recent statements, collectibles courtesy of the media houses. Pulled together they indicate the state of the Zuma art of defence and strategy.

I am innocent” and “I have done nothing wrong” are two refrains running through the Zuma narrative. Specifically, Zuma argues:

I’ve never committed any crime. There’s no criminal in my family. A criminal has never been born in my family.”

The water on the duck’s back is evident when Zuma turns to nihilism on the corruption charges:

I’m not corrupt. If someone says Zuma is corrupt, he is just saying it, Zuma is not corrupt.”

Zuma tries to present prospects of going behind bars as nothing, because “I have done time” (with reference to Robben Island). He contrasts the events now with the time he was imprisoned in the name of the struggle:

“… at that time I didn’t commit any crime, I was fighting for my freedom. I spent 10 years, six months [in jail] without any problem.”

Next Zuma launches a missile at South Africa’s vulnerable investigative authorities, probably poking at the bloody noses on the matter of Estina dairy and Gupta money flows.

They investigated until they became tired because they couldn’t find anything.”

The Zuma logic continues, without specifying exact targets, using the royal they:

They never expected anyone to build such a house in Nkandla and they concluded that I stole the money… They investigated but they never found the money that they accused me of stealing.”

No place in the Zuma strategy to recognise avoidance of court appearances through unrelenting legal processes, efforts to refute and discredit public protector reports, and the close to R40-million of public funds used so far in the process.

At the heart of the Zuma strategy is his attempt to delegitimise the judiciary:

I’m not talking bad about judges, but we all know that sometimes it happens that they convict someone who hasn’t done anything, but another court could come to a different conclusion.”

Zuma attempts clever conceptual tricks on State Capture.

The state consists of three organs, Parliament, the judiciary and the executive. If you tell the country that there’s State Capture in South Africa, you mean those three organs are captured. That’s wrong.”

He hints that his defence tactics will include “meetings with and introductions to the Guptas – yes”; “evidence and paper trails – no”:

I’ve heard that there was a certain family which spoke to a few people including ministers. You can’t just say that by speaking to those people the state has been captured.”

He pairs this with:

The name state capture is misused to tarnish the image of other people.”

Zumaist strategy is synonymous with endeavoured ideological discreditation of Cyril Ramaphosa. Beyond the court defences, this is designed to boost the fightback from the trenches:

God … gave us our own wealth. We can’t just sit and watch our wealth being dug up every day and exported.”

No word about Zuma’s nine years of state power when poverty, land and unemployment carried less weight than auto-teller politics. Neither does Zuma mention his second ANC-Mangaung term that was modelled on the promise of a Lula moment. Instead, Zuma waited until the morning of the Nasrec conference to launch a “policy” of free post-secondary education (not consulted, not budgeted). Delegates pushed for more incisive land action – necessary but neglected during the nine-year rule of “Zuma the revolutionary”.

One of Zuma’s religious leader backers tried to ignite a flame of revolutionary nostalgia:

We are telling you to be strong as there are comrades who are targeted instead of white people who stole our land”.

The disciples add that “the things that Baba Zuma has done that have advanced and improved the life of a black child … have to be continued”.

This type of disingenuous invention is tangible too in Zuma hiding behind the band of often-discredited activists who mobilise in his name and threaten to create a new political party:

Zuma will not be the face of the party. It is impossible. He will forfeit everything then”, one argues with reference to the political party that may be shaping up via surreptitious mobilisation.

In Zuma’s own words, people who thought he would leave the ANC one day to start another party “have no idea who I am”. Herein lies confirmation that a new party is a cunning threat, second to Zumaist recapture of the ANC. Bring in the Zuma apostle’s words:

Whoever wants a two-thirds majority must start with Msholozi.”

Susan Booysen, Professor in the Wits School of Governance, University of the Witwatersrand. This article was originally published on the Daily Maverick.