Astute operator: The late Joe Slovo, left, Ronnie Kasrils and Jacob Zuma were friends in the liberation struggle. In his book A Simple Man, Kasrils attempts to demystify the demeanour that Zuma has fashioned over the years for himself. Picture: SUPPLIED
Astute operator: The late Joe Slovo, left, Ronnie Kasrils and Jacob Zuma were friends in the liberation struggle. In his book A Simple Man, Kasrils attempts to demystify the demeanour that Zuma has fashioned over the years for himself. Picture: SUPPLIED

In its pre-publicity for former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils’s book, the publisher promised journalists that it would be hard to put it down as his writing style is racy and the subject matter is explored by an insider with unique knowledge.

Many publishers oversell their products. But A Simple Man was hard to put down — especially in SA’s highly charged political environment, in which President Jacob Zuma is the prominent character in the tragic tale of state capture and corruption. The book reads like a spy novel. But it is not a work of fiction, as it deals with issues in which Kasrils was one of the central players, spanning several decades predating democratic SA.

The photograph on the cover must have been taken donkey’s years ago, when Kasrils and Zuma were close friends in the liberation struggle.

A SIMPLE MAN

Author: Ronnie Kasrils
Publisher: Jacana Media

Kasrils rose through the ranks of Umkhonto weSizwe after it was formed in 1962, becoming a commander and a head of its intelligence structure. Zuma also rose through the ranks of the ANC in exile, eventually achieving the position of head of intelligence of the liberation movement in exile.

The two fought side by side to liberate SA, but — after reading A Simple Man — it appears it would now be a miracle if they had a coffee together.

Kasrils paints a picture of Zuma’s complex character — or rather his affinity for wearing a mask as a simple rural man while in reality he is hiding his rather calculated politics, which he often uses to get ahead of his rivals within the ANC.

He attempts to demystify the demeanour that Zuma fashioned for himself, that of a simple man from the rural areas who comrades tried, unsuccessfully, to prevent from becoming the president of the ANC.

Zuma would have SA believe that prior to the Polokwane conference in 2007, when he was accused of raping Fezekile Kuzwayo — the daughter of one of his comrades — his rivals jumped on the incident to kill his ambition to become president of the ANC and the country.

Zuma was eventually acquitted of rape but named Kasrils as the person at the centre of the plot to besmirch him.

According to this narrative, Kasrils was doing the bidding for former president Thabo Mbeki, who had wanted Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka to be the next president of the ANC.

Kasrils has consistently denied the conspiracy theory and paints Zuma as a person who is fond of cooking up conspiracy theories. He also says Zuma does not shy away from using other devious methods to gain public sympathy, such as invoking tribalism and victimhood and carving out a demeanour of a simple guy from Nkandla to gain the sympathy of ordinary people.

Kasrils gives examples of instances of Zuma’s alleged flaws in behaviour in exile and in democratic SA and argues that the president uses this mask as a form of deception.

Kasrils cites as an example of Zuma’s alleged unreliability and subtle racism an incident in 1982, after they aborted a mission to cross to Swaziland from Mozambique after Kasrils injured his ankle. He overheard Zuma explain what happened.

"Homeboy [Kasrils] had heard the unkind tone, whispered behind his back, whispered in a tongue he was not proficient in, but the words umlungu and mampara were unmistakable," he writes. "Homeboy was shaken and worried in a way that went deeper than the pain in the ankle. Could Baba [Zuma] be a two-faced Judas? Did his middle name, Gedleyihlekisa, really mean what Baba had once explained to Homeboy: ‘he who stabs you in the back while smiling’. Whatever the literal translation, that is how he has come to be regarded."

Kasrils also accuses Zuma of destroying state security institutions by sucking them into his political battles in the ANC, especially during the period leading up to the Polokwane conference, at which Zuma won more support than Mbeki, who had sought a third term as president of the party.

The book is a tale of the descent of the movement from its once high moral ground to a corrupt organisation and governing party.

Although Kasrils also deals with the Gupta family and their business dealings with the first family, he argues that this must be understood in the broader context of how crony capitalists have tried to capture the ANC since it took power in 1994, and it cannot be seen in isolation.

"The enigmatic Jacob Zuma is not the simple man of the people he enjoys portraying himself as. Astute and engaging from earlier days, along the way he has become driven by lust for wealth and power," Kasrils writes. "Whether he was lured by the unscrupulous or was the principal in engagement himself is a moot point.

"Zuma and the state capture project is the consequence of the economic choices made by the Faustian pact. He and many others have exploited the opportunities presented by the new form of sociopolitical relationships emerging after the demise of apartheid that favour predatory forces."

 

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