President Jacob Zuma. Picture: GCIS
President Jacob Zuma. Picture: GCIS

In 1983, the ANC armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, made good on a bold promise to step up attacks on military targets.

On May 20th that year, in the heart of Pretoria, MK cadres exploded a car bomb in front of a building that was headquarters to both the South African Air Force as well as the South African Defence Force’s Military Intelligence arm.

Nineteen people died in the blast, and more than 200 SADF personnel were hurt.

After the day of covering the carnage, I returned to the Sunday Times newsroom with my black canvas shoes wet with blood.

There were shock waves across the country – triumphant fists in the air from some quarters, and sorrow and anger from others.

The Apartheid government reacted swiftly and harshly, intensifying its crackdown on political activists.

In June of that year, three men who’d been part of an attack on the Wonderboom police station, Jerry Mosolodi, Terry Mogerani and Thabo Montaung, were executed.

Activists were killed, their homes bombed; a punitive air raid was carried out on offices thought to be ANC enclaves. It was a dark and dangerous time.

I was one of the journalists who witnessed the signing of the Nkomati Accord in which South Africa agreed to stop its support for Renamo, a Mozambican national resistance militant organisation. Mozambique agreed to close ANC transit facilities for guerrillas within its borders.

There was outrage within the ANC. A campaign that would take the fight to the very homes and neighbourhoods of ordinary people was begun. The ANC began a programme that urged residents to make the townships they lived in  ungovernable.

The result was violent and bloody. African councillors and “collaborators” were attacked; municipal buildings razed to the ground. Necklacing, the most brutal form of murder, became a popular way of dealing with those perceived as impimpi, traitors to the cause.

The Casspirs moved in; young armed white men battled stone-throwing young black men. The air was thick with fear and anger and hate.

One morning in 1985, the Sunday Times news editor Gary Dixon came to my desk in the smoke-filled newsroom.

Photographer Herbert Mabuza and I were to go to Soweto to attend a press conference at the Catholic Church, Regina Mundi, a safe haven for the hunted and the persecuted in Rockville Soweto.

But first we had to get into Soweto. There were burning tyre barricades barring entry on the Old Potchefstroom Road (now renamed Chris Hani), dangerously strewn with large rocks.

As we stopped at one of the barriers, I heard Herbert mutter under his breath. In front of us was a clutch of drugged teenagers, their red eyes blazing, their demeanour truculent.

You can’t negotiate with teenagers, Herbert said quietly, especially ones who are high. There’s just no wiggle room for rationality.

We were afraid. And rightly so. The teenage boys began to rock our car even as Herbert tried to reason with the adolescent boy who seemed to be the leader.

In the end they let us go into Soweto. Herbert gingerly weaved a zagged path through the rocks on the road. Quickly, I urged. Hurry.

When we looked back, the teenage soldiers had lost interest in us. We saw them stop another pitted car, also, we assumed, carrying journalists.

When we went into the war zones, we could only take cars scarred from stoning from the Sunday Times car pool. We looked like a convoy from a post apocalyptic Mad Max movie.

This week, as Jacob Zuma dug his heels in and refused to resign, it felt like a repeat of having to negotiate with a belligerent teenager.

The newly elected ANC treasurer-general Paul Mashatile told investors at a Mining Indaba in Cape Town of Zuma’s intransigence.

In talks with the President, a transition period was mentioned. Apparently Zuma asked them what they meant, claiming it was a strange word “you guys have just coined”.

Shades of the aggressive, combative teenager refusing to budge.

Go back to your working committee and the NEC, he said, and tell them I am not resigning.

It was a week of bizarre moments.

Every news station, every television broadcast was focused on Speaker of the House, Baleka Mbete, as she stood on the Parliamentary steps announcing that the State of the Nation address would be postponed indefinitely.

Every television station, that is, except for the Gupta owned ANN. They chose to run a clip showing a Russian spokesman announcing that 32 Russian athletes would be appealing to the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport to lift their doping bans and allow them to compete in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The 1980s was the period when the struggle to end apartheid rule was at its zenith. Astonishingly brave ordinary men and women took the fight for freedom to the streets.

The fight was for freedom from oppression yes.

But it was also a fight for freedom from the kind of corruption and graft that our country has seen during Zuma’s captured state reign.

It was a fight to improve the lives and lot of all South Africans, not just a handful of the lucky few.

The 80s has been much on my mind this week.

Jacob Zuma’s refusal to take responsibility for his contribution to the moral decay of our society; for the theft of billions siphoned off into greedy pockets spits in the face of us all.

Does his wanting to actually give the State of the Nation Address indicate hubris or naivete? Or just plain obstinate mulishness? Does he really think he’s being hard done by?

Perhaps we’ve all been wrong about him.

History will not be kind to Jacob Zuma. But it appears that he doesn’t care.