The political career of Mr. Zuma was threatened in 2004 when his financial adviser and businessman, Mr. Schabir Shaik, was put on trial for taking bribes from arms deals and accused of channeling funds to Mr. Zuma. The sensational trial attracted a lot of public and media interest. Mr. Shaik was found guilty in June 2005, and began in November 2006 to serve a 15-year jail term after his appeal to the Supreme Court failed. During the trial, Mr. Shaik denied ever soliciting bribes for Mr. Zuma and said that the monies that exchanged hands were only interest-free loans to help Mr. Zuma, then Deputy President.
In passing judgment, the court said many unflattering statements about Mr. Zuma, so much that his critics called on him to resign but his supporters rejected such demands. The most powerful trade union in South Africa, COSATU, said that the trial judge went beyond his brief in implicating Mr. Zuma who was not involved in the trial at any stage. However, in deference to public opinion, Mr. Zuma resigned his seat in parliament.
President Thabo Mbeki, in whose cabinet Mr. Zuma was serving, relieved the Deputy President of his responsibilities. Mr. Zuma was openly investigated and charged with corruption, which charges were dropped as unlawful, politically motivated and technically flawed, after years of political and legal wrangling. Judge Nicholson found Mr. Zuma not guilty and the African National Congress (ANC) embraced Mr. Zuma with songs and applause. On January 12, 2009, the Supreme Court unanimously overturned judge Nicholson’s judgment, but no new trial was started. Mr. Zuma had then assumed position as president of the ANC.
In the fateful 2005 that heralded larger than life problems for Mr. Zuma, he was accused of rape and charged to court. In a most sensational trial at the time, Mr. Zuma admitted that he had consensual sex with the woman in question, but no rape took place. He also said that he had a shower afterwards to prevent possible HIV infection as the woman was positive for the virus. Mr. Zuma was cleared of the rape charge but his shower explanation as antidote to HIV infection was loudly ridiculed for someone who should have known better. The situation was thought to signal again Mr. Zuma’s adieu to politics. But it was wrong.
In a masterful political dexterity, Mr. Zuma, who had been a member of the ANC since age 17, worked his way back up the party ladder. In a contest between himself and then President Mbeki, Mr. Zuma won and was elected ANC president in 2007, a most powerful position in the country. The ANC, as the ruling party, determines the actions of government. Mr. Zuma’s victory went a notch higher when the party recalled President Mbeki in September 2008. This is a euphemism for asking the president to resign which he did, nine months before his term ended. He was replaced by ANC Deputy President, Mr. Kgalema Motlanthe, who served as interim president before the elections of 2009.
President Zuma is not new to challenges. He was brought up by a widowed mother and he had no formal education. Like many in the ANC, he had devoted his life to the anti-apartheid struggle. He left the country for military training and actively worked as a member of ANC’s Umkhonto We Sizwe, the military branch. He took part actively in the insurgency against the white, segregationist, oppressive, apartheid regime. He was arrested and jailed in Robben Island for 10 years along with Mr. Nelson Mandela.
Gifted with a personality of bonhomie, ordinariness, and a political sagacity that must be the envy of his enemies, JZ, as he is called by his admirers, became President in May 2009, a foregone conclusion once he had assumed leadership of the ANC. Since then, his capacity to make small gestures hugely attractive and to deflect big political bullets has stood him in good stead. With natural ease, he continues to ride over turbulent waves.
In April 2013, a private plane full of wedding guests landed at the Waterkloof Air Force Base in Pretoria. The plane belonged to a wealthy, business-owning family called the Guptas, well connected and very close to President Zuma. Originally from India, the family’s businesses include IT, media and mining. President’s Zuma’s son, Duduzane, is known to be a business partner of the Guptas. The irregular landing of a civilian jet at a military enclave caused an uproar. A ministerial task force was set up to look into the matter. Fortunately for President Zuma, the task force found that the president did not have any role in the wrongdoing. President Zuma was relieved but there were many who insisted that as president he should assume responsibility for the security lapse of his friends’ actions.
The year 2015 was ominous for President Zuma. A deluge of major problems ensued, fanned into billowing flames by his antecedents, critics, opposition parties, and ever-watchful media. Within the ANC itself, cracks began to show as some high-ranking members spoke directly and indirectly of their discomfort with the president’s many problems.
Since 2012, complaints had been lodged with the Public Protector, Ms. Thuli Madonsela, by some members of the public and political parties over alleged misuse of state funds to refurbish the private residence of the Zuma family in Nkandla, his place of birth. A security appraisal of the compound done after President Zuma took office showed that additional measures were required. Ms. Madonsela in her report of March 2014 stated that some modifications and additions done were beyond security upgrades. They included the construction of a swimming pool and a cattle kraal. The report also found the president wanting in protecting and making judicious uses of state resources. She concluded that President Zuma had benefited unduly from the Rands 246 million ($16 million) that the state spent on the upgrades and asked him to refund an amount to be determined by working with the Treasury and the South African Police Service for elements that were not related to security.
Through 2015, the president explained that he had no say in what was done at his residence. Senior government officials for security characterised all upgrades done as security measures. The ANC-majority parliament cleared the President of any misdeeds. President Zuma had nothing to pay for. But Nkandla-gate, as it became known, continued to generate public interest and calls for the President to refund money would not go away, thanks to the opposition parties, especially the Julius Malema-led Economic Freedom Front (EFF) and Democratic Alliance (DA).
• To be continued tomorrow.
• Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership