Jacob Zuma’s reign was stained by a steady debasement
He seduced the unions, the communists, two-thirds of his party, the ANC Youth League and danced his way to power a decade ago. Now, he is gone — almost.
The departure of Jacob Zuma is the single most important event in SA’s recent history, with enormous consequences for politics and the economy.
A very rough guide to his presidency might indicate what needs to be changed by the new ANC leaders.
Zuma’s accession to power was a stop-start affair, dividing the ANC and the nation. Mired in a scandal after his "financial adviser" was found guilty of corrupting him, he was fired as deputy president in 2005.
He was then charged with rape, but Zuma survived to become the president of the ANC at the party’s Polokwane conference in December 2007.
Unlike former president Thabo Mbeki, Zuma counted the numbers; his supporters mobilised branches and created new ones so he was assured of a large majority.
Long before then, Zuma had embarked on a drive to amass power. In 2005, his ANC Youth League supporters were hard at work defending him and attacking his opponents.
The Friends of Jacob Zuma, a trust, began raising money for his war chest. Cosatu and the South African Communist Party (SACP) were mobilising against Mbeki’s policies and preparing the way for a "post-Washington Consensus" Zuma era.
Zuma played up to the left’s image of him as a saviour who would reverse Mbeki’s policies, and he accused Mbeki of using state institutions to persecute him. He became adept at playing victim — a technique he would use frequently in his rule.
By September 2008 Zuma and leaders of the alliance orchestrated Mbeki’s recall, which had momentous consequences for the governing party and the country.
The corruption charges against Zuma were dropped and he was cleared to stand for the presidency of the country, which he won in 2009.
He appointed a slew of ministers as a reward, enlarging the Cabinet to become one of the largest in the world.
His patronage machine was functioning at full speed. Preparing for the future, he appointed Menzi Simelane as national director of public prosecutions.
With typical stealth, he almost immediately embarked on channelling state funds to develop his Nkandla homestead into a luxury compound. He thought nothing of spending tax money on his many wives and children, and continues to do so. The Nkandla scandal emerged in December 2009 when the Mail & Guardian broke the story, but it got traction much later. A scant eight months into his presidency, Zuma’s intelligence minister Siyabonga Cwele was apparently unaware of his wife’s drug dealing, his communications minister Siphiwe Nyanda was being accused of clinching lucrative deals with state entities and public enterprises minister Barbara Hogan was confronting corruption at Transnet.
He resorted to dirty politics, trying to get Motlanthe and Sexwale implicated in an oil deal
When Hogan suggested a review of state-owned enterprises, Zuma stopped her, saying he would convene his own panel to do the job. She would become his first casualty.
Zuma’s philandering ways resulted in the first scandal of his term early in 2010. He fathered his 20th child with the daughter of soccer boss Irvin Khoza. For this he apologised to the nation — the first of many mea culpas — just days before his first state of the nation speech. As Cosatu rushed to his defence, he announced he would initiate a dialogue on moral regeneration.
When newspapers reported that Youth League leader Julius Malema had secured more than R100m in state contracts, Zuma said it was none of his business.
He refused to support Cosatu’s suggestion of a lifestyle audit after the federation criticised his first budget, which they said was pro-business.
The alliance was already beginning to unravel. Cosatu’s leader at the time, Zwelinzima Vavi, declared that the federation would not be the ANC’s lapdog.
In April 2010 then public protector Thuli Madonsela pointed to "a systematic pattern of non-compliance" by "a substantial number" of cabinet ministers. The DA protested that Zuma had still not declared his financial interests a year after coming to power. Jessie Duarte advised the president to "clean up" his act.
In June of that year Zuma visited India, where the Guptas came to prominence for the first time. Hogan was also there, and she noticed that "members of the Gupta family had taken over control of the proceedings and were appearing to be directing the programme".
Zuma’s leftist allies accused him of crony capitalism. Analyst Mcebisi Ndletyana chided Cosatu. "To have expected that Mr Zuma would lead a worker-friendly government was a false expectation," he said.
Already there was talk in the alliance of ousting Zuma. He fired Hogan in October and reshuffled his cabinet for the first time, appointing Malusi Gigaba in place of Hogan — a move that would facilitate state capture.
He appointed Nomgcobo Jiba as deputy of the National Prosecuting Authority, anticipating that she would avert charges against him.
Declaring 2011 the year of job creation, Zuma neglected to mention that the economy had shed more than 1-million jobs from 2009 to 2011.
The first hints of state capture appeared in July 2011 when Amabungane reported Zuma had taken a delegation of 200 businessmen and politicians to the UK in March 2010. Among them was Ajay Gupta, by then a business partner of Duduzane Zuma, the president’s son, and businessman Robert Gumede.
Zuma broke with Malema in August by throwing the Youth League leader out of a meeting, reportedly saying: "Who do you think you are, you think you are in charge of this country?" This came after Malema had called for regime change in Botswana.
More scandals emerged in August when Zuma was caught in a controversy relating to the Billion Group, a company linked to Lonwabo Sambudla, who was married to Zuma’s daughter Duduzile. Billion had received a tender to build a R1bn home for the Public Service and Administration Department. Earlier public works minister Geoff Doidge was fired to smooth out the deal with the more pliant Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde.
In what would become a pattern, Zuma ignored Madonsela’s ruling that he take action against Mahlangu-Nkabinde for illegally leasing a building.
By October the Gauteng provincial ANC was calling for Zuma to be replaced by Kgalema Motlanthe. He resorted to dirty politics, trying to get Motlanthe and Tokyo Sexwale implicated in an oil deal with Iran, in transgression of UN resolutions.
Not content with Nkandla, he spent R400m on renovating his residences in Pretoria and Cape Town as well as those of MPs.
Zuma appointed former judge Willem Heath as the new Special Investigating Unit head in place of Willie Hofmeyr in December 2011. This was seen as protection from corruption charges, since Heath had advised Zuma when he faced charges in 2009. Days later Heath accused Mbeki of trumping up rape charges against Zuma. He was forced to resign and was replaced by Jiba.
By now there were concerns about the independence of the "embattled" judiciary. Early in 2012 the DA challenged Zuma’s being let off corruption charges in the "spy-tapes" case.
Malema, expelled from the ANC in March 2012, called on Zuma to step down, but the SACP came to Zuma’s defence, with Blade Nzimande also reacting to revelations in Frank Chikane’s book about the "coup against Mbeki".
"We are hearing some noises from some … who are actually beginning to occupy themselves by trying to cause a stress between SACP and Cosatu … they are not going to succeed," said Nzimande.
In April 2012 the promiscuous president married his fourth wife, Bongi Ngema. The Spear was launched into the art world, depicting a rampant Zuma penis. The SACP and Cosatu rallied to Zuma’s cause, with artist Brett Murray receiving threats.
After Malema’s expulsion Zuma asked churches to urge the youth to respect their elders. But the Youth League lashed out at Zuma after he missed a June 16 engagement. He began skipping meetings where he might get a bad reception.
Zuma clashed with Judge Dikgang Moseneke after the former chief justice had said that the government had failed to implement rulings in favour of the poor, a situation that "remains a constant threat to our constitutionalism".
By August, Nkandla was in the news again. Zumaville, as reports called it, would suck up R2bn spent on creating a village around Zuma’s homestead. The reports read his benefactors included Nelson Mandela.
Zuma’s response was timid after the Marikana massacre in which police killed 34 striking miners and wounded 78.
With newspapers increasingly referring to Zuma as corrupt, the DA led a delegation to Nkandla in November. The SACP called for legislation against statements tarnishing the dignity of the president.
Zuma tried to buttress his dignity and awarded himself a Platinum Class 11 Military Veterans Decoration in December 2012, just before being re-elected ANC president at Mangaung.
The tale of Zuma’s presidency of the ANC is a long and depressing one. An account of his second term will be published online next week on BusinessLIVE.