Zuma’s cunning paranoia

2011-12-10 09:23

It was an appointment that took even his close aides by surprise.

President Jacob Zuma’s announcement of advocate Willem Heath as head of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) happened so suddenly that at least one person in his inner circle was said to have been thrown off balance.

Party insiders and analysts alike have remarked on the irony that Zuma’s kitchen cabinet has gone smaller, even as his presidency grew from 510 employees in 2009 to 636 by March this year.

One person who was in the loop about Heath’s appointment was Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, who oversees the SIU.

It was also Radebe whom the president consulted about the appointment of National Director of Public Prosecutions Menzi Simelane in 2009.

This decision was recently slammed by the Supreme Court of Appeal as “irrational”.In his frequent hirings and firings, Zuma has changed his mind even about his own decisions in the space of less than a year.

What is called irrationality in “polite language” many within the ANC and outside have bluntly labelled “paranoia”, and Zuma seems to be sinking deeper into it as the ANC approaches its elective conference in Mangaung, which is scheduled for next year.

The apparent secrecy started with his first Cabinet reshuffle last year. One of his erstwhile firebrands, ANC national executive committee (NEC) member and then deputy minister of police Fikile Mbalula, broke down in an NEC meeting shortly after and recounted how he’d first heard of his promotion to sport minister from Zuma’s friends outside the ANC, the wealthy Gupta family.

By that time, there were already questions about Zuma’s business links to the family via two of his children, Duduzane and Duduzile.

Even in the party, Zuma is strengthening his hand, yet keeping the reins tight.

The suspension of his most noisy detractor, ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, is the obvious example.

Malema complained that Zuma had done this in a desperate bid to hang on to power, insinuating that his paranoia was worse than former president Thabo Mbeki’s.

In Luthuli House, Zuma has brought in former Joburg mayor Amos Masondo as head of the presidency, and Jessie Duarte as head of the ANC’s new monitoring and evaluation unit.

Masondo is a tested party loyalist and unlikely to stab Zuma in the back, while Duarte can dilute Mbalula’s influence as party organiser by taking some of his responsibilities.

At the party’s NEC meeting last month, Zuma intimidated some leaders by promising to personally clamp down on information leaks to the media.

This bears a strong resemblance to the run-up to the ANC’s Polokwane conference in 2007. Mbeki fell after party leaders complained that he hardly ever consulted them before making decisions in government.

Ahead of Mangaung, Zuma must be keenly aware that his strategy of keeping the cards close to his chest could backfire too.

Already, internal critics have latched on to the perceived weaknesses of his appointees. Heath, who formed part of Zuma’s “brains trust” in his corruption case, has been labelled an “arse-licker” by a detractor in the ANC’s NEC.

Heath’s remarks to City Press last week that Mbeki was behind the corruption and rape charges against Zuma, have put Zuma in a pickle.Zuma has apparently instructed Radebe to reverse Heath’s appointment barely a week after the fact, although this is likely to make Zuma look like a man of weak judgement.

In July, Zuma roped in another ally in Mac Maharaj, an ANC veteran and fellow former intelligence operative, as his spokesperson, shunting Zizi Kodwa sideways.

Maharaj, a former transport minister, was brought back to government in 2009 as Zuma’s special envoy. But only a few months into Maharaj’s tenure, allegations surfaced afresh that he lied to (the now disbanded) Scorpions investigators about his role in the arms deal.

Maharaj accused detractors of dusting off the allegations to discredit him because he is viewed as the man behind Zuma’s commissioning of an arms deal commission of inquiry – a deal the party had agreed to sweep under the carpet.

Another personal ally, Michael Hulley, was roped in part time to help Zuma’s legal adviser, Bonisiwe Makhene. Hulley, who acted as Zuma’s personal lawyer, is a director of mining company Aurora, which was partly owned by Zuma’s nephew, Khulubuse.

This has been interpreted by many as a sign of Hulley’s close links to the Zuma family.Given Zuma’s own intelligence background in the struggle, the goings-on in the spy agencies are telling of how Zuma is governing institutions with a private clique.

The head of intelligence’s foreign arm and a former Zuma faithful, Moe Shaik, is leaving amid tensions in the agency.

He follows State Security Agency director-general Jeff Maqetuka and head of the agency’s domestic arm, Gibson Njenje.Zuma’s simplicity has often lulled his opponents into a false sense of superiority, only for them to find that his ruthlessness is worse than Mbeki’s.

Zuma likes reminding people – in his mother tongue, isiZulu – that he is not educated.

This serves to weaken, even disarm, his enemies. His favourite pose – putting his hands together in a prayer-like way under his chin and deferentially bowing even to those of lower rank – misleads many into thinking he can be shoved around easily.Instead, he’s turning out to be in control of the moves.

Some say it’s starting to backfire, but Zuma’s apparent irrationality and paranoia have so far stood him in good stead.

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