Today was one of those days where I woke up wondering if this country is real or a twisted simulation run by a low-budget group of poorly read improv, D-rate actors simply throwing ideas into the mix with little understanding of the consequences. Today is oneof the many days that being part of the spectating youth in this country reached the apex of its embarrassment. The state of the country would be embarrassing with a side of cringe if it weren’t so devastatingly sad and dangerous.
With a youth unemployment rate as shockingly high as ours I would like to take this moment to ask my beloved viewers to click on the ads on this screen, please and thank you. Click for a young African girl to make coin.
I don’t even know where to begin, because in my mind there is no marked beginning for this cataclysmic fuck up championed by the ANC and its tired, aged approach to leadership but for understandings sake, I’ll begin sometime last week.
Last week we saw what can only be framed as the political revival of Jacob Zuma and one of the most calculated, strategic political power grabs that the country has witnessed since the beginning of state capture. Former President Jacob Zuma, to be referred to as Zuma for the remainder of this blog post because we remember Khwezi in this space, entered into the final frontier of exploiting a deep-seated and long-standing tribalist faction in the ANC- by galvanizing his followers in an oppositional bid to up-end a Constitutional Court ruling. The ruling sentencing him to 15 months in jail, for contempt of court – ironically a court date which he has previously begged the media and public for. Zuma stood in contempt of court for his refusal to adhere to his court-ordered summons to appear before the Zondo Commission, investigating allegations of corruption during his tenure in office. Ironically, since irony is perhaps the only thing the ANC is not in shortage of, the Commission was established by Zuma’s former government itself. Established as a public inquiry in January of 2018 to investigate state capture, fraud, and corruption in state governance and other organs of the state – there existed an inevitable, fast-dwindling timeline until its gaze landed upon the upper echelons of government itself. A reductionist take could frame this commission as the rope with which Zuma hung himself, except that we didn’t get that lucky. A glistening, transparent, incredibly expensive mirror (costing the taxpayers a questionable R1 billion after three years) held up a rather gruesome reality to the ANC in public, which unlike the slew of never-ending, justified, media critique, is legally enforceable. While the Zondo Commission has no powers to enforce the law itself, bar witness summons, it does report to the President (allegedly because my Google search yielded poor explicit results).
To recap, Zuma’s reasoning for not appearing before the commission, defying the Constitutional Court’s summons, according to a Mail and Gaurdian article by Emsie Ferreria states alleged political bias and prosecution reminiscent of Apartheid. Let’s just… stop right there. Zuma is and has always been a political machine and remains acutely aware of how to capitalize popularized rhetoric which will undeniably land in his core base. Invoking Apartheid nostalgia does four things in this instance:
- This blatantly frames democratic courts, in a democratic nation as somehow operating beneath an illegitimate legal system separated from notions of equity and justice.
- Frames Zuma as a victim subjugated and relatively defenseless in the face of a large and better-equipped aggressor.
- Signals to his supports his political posture of justified defiance, echoing a once legitimate political defiance – planting a seed for collective mobilization
- Insinuate a collapse of the separation of powers. To compare the Constitutional Court to Apartheid-era courts is to insinuate that the separation of powers, on which this democratic republic is expressly founded to avoid political overreach and any dictatorship , are nullified.
The political powers at be have bastardized the once valiant cause of a liberation struggle, never failing to hold up the liberation front as a shield to justified democratic critique – and this time was no different. Using the liberation struggle in this light signals a re-introduction of Zuma as a neo-political prisoner – brandishing the Zondo commission as unjust and re-igniting factionalist tensions between ANC members who went into exile (i.e. President Cyril Ramaphosa) and members who did not. Using history in this way is calculated and detracts from the matter at hand. The matter at present being that the Zondo Commission was established beneath Zuma’s Presidency and his inability to take accountability. Zuma has established a pattern of policy shopping for the best evasion tactic. In 2020 Zuma’s appeal to the Constitutional Court was withdrawn, this appeal was for leave of in the lower courts – who had systematically and judicially refused to grant his permanent stay of prosecution. There is no other way but to interpret a submission and continued appeal for a permanent prosecutorial stay as a lack of desire to:
- Be prosecuted at all.
- Evade public accountability.
Okay fine, he withdraws the appeal at the constitutional court which he had (at this point) willingly acknowledge as the apex court of the land – with the greatest judicial power (to later – i.e. now- be discredited). Ok’salayo, Zuma is allegedly willing and in fact enthused about being able to testify in court “to defend himself against 16 charges of fraud, corruption, money laundering, and racketeering amounting to R4 million that occurred between1996 and 2005.” claiming to have never benefitted from any arms deals, nor participated in any untoward activity during his tenure. It must be noted that his co-accused, French arms company Thales, stay of prosecution was also denied. The withdrawal of the Con Court appeal was shortly after the termination of his legal relationship with his lawyer of 3 years; Daniel Mantsha of Lugisani Mantsha Attorneys, with immediate effect. The termination of the relationship was also cited as a reason for his ill preparation for court, along with a sick note which was submitted as a reason to Judge Dhaya Pillay, that was swiftly rejected and followed by a warrant for his arrest.
This, following his deeply personal and frankly desperate ploy to discredit the Head of the Zondo Commission, deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo. Zuma has prior to the sick note, which would probably be rejected by a staunch Catholic P.E. teacher, attempted to get Deputy Chief Justice to recuse himself from the Zondo Commission. In 2020, Zuma alleged bias on the Deputy Chief Justice’s behalf towards him, adamantly argued by his Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane. Sikhakhane alleged that Zondo had created a hostile prosecutorial environment that would undoubtedly frighten a litigant seated before him, specifically based in his comments.
Arguing based on the reasonable apprehension of bias doctrine – Sikhakhane failed to compellingly prove that the deputy Chief Justice had displayed contemptuous bias against Zuma. Sikhakhane had alleged that comments were made to “sweetheart witnesses”, namely; former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor, former minister of finance Nhlanhla Nene, former minister of public enterprises Barbara Hogan and current Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan proved a prejudicial bias against Zuma – robbing him of a fair trial. Sikhakhane claimed these witnesses were “sweethearts” promoting the Commissions narrative (insinuated to be created by Zondo) of alleging that “everything wrong in the country was caused by Zuma” including the previously non-politicized term “state capture”, to which I can only retort by saying “projection”.
Commission evidence leader, Advocate Paul Pretorius retorted with two responses, firstly that it was “not clear what the application was and what the application was not” and secondly that Zuma’s failure to engage in cross-examination of these alleged “sweethearts” cannot contribute to (what Zuma would need) a contradictory evidentiary line of argument proving a lack of impartiality on the Deputy’s side. Advocate Sikhakhane failed to prove in any meaningful fashion that Deputy Chief Zondo operated prejudicially and lacked impartiality. An absence of prejudice so great it could be proved with the critique which Deputy Chief Justice Zondo endured from his peers, who even labeled his restraint in issuing a summons as maladroit (I too did not know the meaning of this word until today and it basically means inefficient in this context).
In his five-page statement confirming his non-appearance before the Commission, Zuma doubled down on his discontentment the Justice’s refusal for a recusal stating “Deputy Chief Justice Zondo, in dismissing the application to recuse himself, was again frugal and expedient with the truth in how he contextualized and defined the nature of the personal relationship we had. Perhaps by Western culture’s standard of defining kinship, he may be correct if the yardstick is of family events attended or family invitations issued”.
Hmm… Once again the political machine at work. Deputy Chief Justice had already made known, in disclosure, the nature and merit of his relationship with Zuma – a necessary decision given Zuma’s attempt to hold the court ransom to that very same relationship. A relationship when its immunity to manipulation became apparent, was no longer of value and degraded by Zuma who himself claims it to have been one of closeness. lol. By framing Deputy Chief Justice Zondo and the commissions’ approach as Western, Zuma re-inforces an idea of alienation and a newness surrounding his treatment by the Commission and the courts. The secondary implication of this suggestion is the foreignness with which the Apartheid state courts were founded and the illegitimacy of their rulings, judiciary, and inquisitions. Zuma again asserts a posture of justified defiance and victimization.
This letter is topped off with the publicly stated assertion that Zuma would indeed be willing to go to jail – to which the courts said ‘your wish is my command’.
[Insert deep spiritual sigh].
I’m exhausted? Aren’t you?
And that is precisely the point and Zuma’s modus operandi. It’s called “Stalingrad tactics’ – a legal defense strategy, often rooted in desperation, in which a defense team aims to weather down legal proceedings to a point of exhaustion. Consistently appealing rulings, procedures, anything really to find roadblocks and exploit them. Not only does this make the process more tedious and laborious than necessary, it exhausts the proceedings facilities – most especially in the instance of the state. It can be suggested that Zuma underestimated the rigor of the courts, allocation of the budget or perhaps the propensity of the legal system to pursue justice. Zuma’s delaying tactics, after years, have come to a halt with his political card declining in his bid to once more shop for another “problematic” policy to exploit.
It was at this point that I, and perhaps many others, believed we could take a long and much-needed exhale and enjoy the impending imprisonment of one of the state’s biggest exploitation forces. Guy… we were wrong. Boy were we so gravely mistaken. Perhaps the mistake was in under-estimating the seriousness of Zuma’s thinly veiled threat, made apparent in his non-appearance letter. Zuma very clearly stated, “With this groundswell of messages, I felt moved to publicly express solidarity with the sentiments and concerns raised with me about a clearly politicized segment of the judiciary that now heralds an imminent constitutional crisis in this country.”
What is he saying here?
He said, ‘Listen up, I am Former President Jacob Zuma, arguably one of the most popular Presidents’ this democratic country has had. That popularity has not dissipated since my exit from politics, in fact, it has only increased – to the point where you as a corrupt judiciary seem to have forgotten that there stands to be a state of crisis if you refuse to meet me with my understandings of what should constitute justice.”
Mind you, this was probably said with far more charisma that seems to somehow actively overshadow the harrowing acts he’s committed against this country- but you get the just of it. He said ‘You know who I be and I’m strapped, run up if you finna run up’. The court ran up with an arrest warrant and he said ‘ayt bet’ – which brings us to Nkandla.
Let’s return for a second to one of the country’s biggest international scandals and state-facilitated abominations. – The Nkandla homestead. Ah, the sour taste of corruption and sheer impropriety. The Nkandla homestaead of Zuma cost citizens an alarming $23 000 000, roughly R331,247,978.00. I love a full circle moment except that this one is shroud in one of the greatest national power plays of the last decade. Having failed to successfully achieve… well anything with his Stalingrad tactics – he made good on his threat.
Zuma capitalized off of his popularity and mobilized the poor, in a global health pandemic. In the midst of a third wave of COVID, the most dangerous thus far, an almost crippled healthcare system and poor infrastructure especially in the rural areas – Zuma defied yet another state law about mass gatherings and mobilized. Zuma negligibly and violently decided to threaten the livelihood of our state’s democracy by challenging the rule of law (the idea that all persons are equally subject to the law of the state). Deciding to thwart the ConCourts ruling , after besmirching it in public as unjust, forced the state into a position of needing to take action lest the precedent be set that Zuma (as a former state authority) is above the law. Further, we saw a power play that strategically bound the President’s hand and weakened his public image. President Ramaphosa has not at any point publicly made reference to how this mass gathering has been facilitated, nor the root cause for two reasons:
- There must exist a separation of powers in our republic. Were President Ramaphosa to respond directly to the dangerous and scandalous actions of Zuma, he would effectively be participating in political overreach, abusing his role of President and politicizing the judiciary. This would throw President Ramaphosa not only into the role of the aggressor, which Zuma so desperately needed him to assume to complete his victimhood narrative but into a sphere of illegality completely corrupting his credibility. Zuma knows that the battle he’s engaged in, is in fact legal, but being no longer afforded political favour and perhaps having lost his long-standing political capital in the ANC (given Ramaphosa’s new governance) he stood only to gain by collapsing the legal into the political. By collapsing these separate issues into one he was able to spew a very specific propagandist line of arguement in reductionist takes to the public and his base supporters; that of being a man of the people unfairly ousted by his former political party, for which he suffered during Apartheid, and subjected to state abuse. Zuma exploited his self-narrated victimhood, villanizing the government and judiciary (which in this scenario are one) and effectively questioning the actionable strength of the judiciary.
- The threat of factionalism multiplying. There are very few public figures who clutch as tightly onto the hollowed-out notion of a rainbow nation as President Cyril Ramaphosa and perhaps for good reason. The obvious reason why this rhetoric should be abandoned would be the idea that the rainbow nation is a fallacy, a tired memory conjured by politicians in moments of crisis, like slapping a plaster on a bullet-hole – it holds little substance in providing a material solution but it seems better than nothing. The rainbow nation is a problematic notion which encourages revisionism in the creation of a collective nationalist identity, that denies a history of severe colonial and imperialism violence in a bid to create an illusory sense of equality. I detest the notion of a rainbow nation but in a country as diverse as ours, with illiteracy and poverty rates as high as ours, there has to be an available and understandable rhetoric which acts as an antidote to the rampant factionalism which threatens the fabric of our democracy. I will not attribute the birth of factionalism and tribalism to Zuma, but I will acknowledge how much he exploited it in this specific instance. Zuma hurled President Ramaphosa into a precarious position of having to navigate a political faction, turned public…turned divisive, turned down-right dirty. By mobilizing people in support of his self-professed political martyrdom, Zuma mobilized people to defy the laws of this country, exploiting a kind of pre-existing lawlessnes synonymous with the former politician. This action in itself is an amplification of his powers of popularity and a dangerous threat to the much-needed unity Ramaphosa has tirelessly tried to cultivate during a time of national strife.
How did Zuma manage to mobilize people so effectively?
Zuma’s behaviour reads as a fascinating apex of cultural polarization in a multi-ethnic, post-colonial context. The irony of raging against a judicial machine, likened to that of the Apartheid-era, while simultaneously exploiting the Apartheid-brain child of ethno-nationalism? Cinematic really. In Trump and the Politics of Neo-Nationalism: The Christian Right and Secular Nationalism in America, Jeffrey Haynes submits that “Trump is both a proximate cause and a consequence of America’s stark political disagreements” and the same can be said of Zuma in a South African context. Zuma acts as a proximate cause of the ANC’s internal political factions, through the very public following which he capitalized upon during his Presidency. Zuma cultivated a very specific base that supported him throughout his scandals. Zuma created a cult-following through exploiting a very specific masculine identity that the ANC has championed since its inception – that of a hero-like savourism, embedded in ideas of infantilism and patriarchy. South Africa is seen as having been saved and liberated almost entirely by the ANC, a body that projects a paternalistic authority over state and national issues. The head of this body then being made subject to an authoritative attack, positions the now infantilized followers as needing to band together as a ‘familial unit’ and combat the imminent attack. What better way to create a solidified ‘familial unit’ than to capitalize on a pre-existing framework of ethnicity?
It can be argued that Zulu politics have not been centered as aggressively as they once were during the Zuma tenure – allowing the nation to feel sidelined in terms of an active masculine representative. It’s clear that Zuma is no longer the head of the ANC, but President Ramaphosa does not in any way have a foothold over the same base that Zuma had. Cyril is seen as highbrow, former exile, business, capitalist-centric.. you know bourgeoise. On top of all of this, he isn’t Zulu – which shouldn’t matter but in a country and a political landscape embroiled in as much tribalism as ours – it does. And Zuma knows this which is how he could appeal to his Zulu compatriots without hesitation. KZN is synonymous with being an ANC stronghold and Zuma knows this, as does everyone. Zuma can be positioned as a consequence of South African politics because he created a climate of corruption and lawlessness which has been maintained and utilized by the government since his tenure. Cultural status afforded to Zulu people by Zuma’s tenure has been passed over since his absence and arguably festered; to be released now in a call for collective mobilization.
It is at this exact moment when all kinds of shit aggressively hit the fan, to be flung around the room -soiling everyone in sight.
Zuma appealed to his pre-existing core base and cultivated the idea that necessary legal proceedings (which he once pleaded for) were a public persecution of his cultural and ethnic identity. Boom. Blown wide-open was the once individualized legal prosecution of a person, who robbed the state blind, and not-so-suddenly was this an attack on one of the proudest and biggest ethnic identities in the country.
In any actionable procedure, the state would be forced to proceed with caution or risk the perception of being seen as acting as an aggressor against an ethnic identity, a cardinal sin in our post-Apartheid state. The risk of any brazen action at this time could only seek to further play into Zuma’s hand in the creation of an in and out-group (of which the current President would most certainly be out) and simultaneously increase the perception of a weakened political adversary in the form of Ramaphosa’s governance. Zuma, slowly but surely instigated the re-assertion of Zulu nationalism – an assertion so great it forced political players into a headlock as a completely different brand of nationalism re-emerged. Through the galvanization of his predominantly Zulu support base, Zuma effectively expanded the realm of his lawlessness into the civil sphere – regardless of the consequences. He created a stronghold and borderline sought to break Nkandla into a new state, assuming directives from a new political ordinance. Zulu nationalism not only mutated but re-invented itself in this display of nationalist power. This ultimately resulted in the perceived social elevation of the Zulu nation, albiet only in media coverage as no material gain stood to be had in this conglomeration. Zuma succeeded in creating both political and social hegemony and increasing society’s polarization. This polarization can be read as underpinning the entirety of the social culture driving Zuma’s desired hegemonized society.
Traditionally nationalism, as informed by Haynes, exists as a secularized ideology in which people or persons identify most determinedly with their nation, often to the exclusions of others on a globalized stage, and fundamentally seek out the interests of their nation above all else. However, Zuma’s carefully planned ethnic division created a specific kind of neo-nationalism. In Neo-Nationalism: The Rise of Nativist Populism, Eirikur Burgmann extends Haynes’ identification of nationalism. Neo-nationalism functions as a type of nativism, in which individuals act as superior based on believing themselves to be original inhabitants of a given place, acting from a place of scarcity and a collectivized belief that their indigenous entitlements are being neglected as “the powers at be” fail to meet their self-determined needs (Bergmann). This is a kind of xenophobic nationalism gains traction when discord occurs between the state and the people, or there is a belief of disharmony occurring between the people and the government. Zuma instigated a dangerous fallacy of the current discord existing between the negligible and highly culpable state (which he contributed to) being rooted in a disparaging attitude being assumed towards Zuluness instead of him as an individual or the state acting as anti-poor. This neo-nationalism collapsed the political into the Zulu identity and further into the ANC, all in a bid to keep a corrupt man who begged to be in jail out of jail. Zuma has been playing checkers while we were all playing chess for a long time. Zuma single-handedly managed to threaten our democracy by capitalizing on one of the oldest footholds of the ANC and re-asserting himself as an unelected oligarch in the political party. Sheer political brilliance which perhaps would and could have lasted were it not for political push-back from the ANC, calling on an authority even greater than Zuma’s presumed one- Prince Mangasotho Buthelezi.
“The images of the Zulu regiment on TV in their numbers frustrated the ANC. Something needed to be done to contain this situation so comrade Zweli [Mkhize, the suspended health minister] had to make the call to the king to ask that he take control of the situation,” one party leader said. While President Cyril Ramaposha’s hands remain tied, those of his party members did not.
Appealing to the prime minister of the Zulu monarch-in-waiting, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, was probably an obvious move to many, but honestly top-tier considering the heightened chaos at this point. Prince Mangasotho made clear that the royal family wished to distance themselves from the actions of Zihogo Nhleko, who led a formation of people dressed in Zulu attire and carrying traditional weapons to Nkandla. Prince Buthelezi noted this as a direct defiance of royal mandate. The royal family said that these actions were not sanctioned by the king-in-waiting.
After the failure of the ANC’s NEC (National Executive Committee)- comprising of the party’s deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte, Tony Yengeni, Jeff Radebe, Ayanda Dlodlo, Zweli Mkhize, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Bheki Cele, Thabang Makwetla,Thoko Didiza and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma – to reach a compromise with Zuma, further action had to be taken. It is noted that Zuma refused to accept an offer to engage in his prison time beneath house arrest. The ANC also threatened to withdraw Zuma’s government protection services should he refuse to hand himself over to the authority (why he still has those… yikes).
While all this was happening, this also happened:
Absolutely no comment.
Then this happened – while COVID happened:
Shortly after this, this happened:
Allegedly. I would personally like a mugshot or something.
So, allegedly, Zuma is in jail but why is the country burning?
Find out in part two.
There’s no real moralizing conclusion here or particular lesson to be learned, bar the dangers of neo-nationalism. I’m tired and I know you are too. If you’re a youth like me and managed to read to this point, I commend you because I know how exhausted you are- ily.