Power and Corruption

2012-11-15 00:00

“NUMBER one is desperate now. He will do anything to stay in power,” says the man opposite me, sipping on his second cup of black coffee.

He is an ANC man, a hard man, born and raised in the struggle. He is worried. Speaking about the decline of the movement he believes in with his whole heart doesn’t come easily. He is scared. I need to take out my cellphone battery when we meet.

“Paranoia has set in at the highest levels. The amount of tapping going on is f****** crazy.

“All comrades now have two or three cellphones,” he says in a hushed voice, frowning.

I don’t know if he’s telling the truth. I’ve seen the two, three cellphones when I meet sources in bars, restaurants or parking lots.

There’s the official number, the unofficial off-the-record number and the deep off-the-record number. I often make the joke that if all the people who believe they are being bugged are really being listened to, that leaves half of the rest of the population to do the tapping. It doesn’t matter if the paranoia is based on real evidence or perception. Perception is truth, and in the months leading up to the governing ANC’s 53rd national elective conference in Mangaung, paranoia has set in at an unprecedented level.

Comrades are scared about who they speak to, where they eat or who they are seen with in public.

“Try to come in a different car next time. Park on the other side of the building. And don’t call me on my official phone, ever,” says the hard man. He’s just explained to me why, despite his flaws, Zuma should be re-elected at Mangaung. “This one-term s..t will cause instability, not only in the ANC but in the whole country. If we start kicking people out after one term, we will end up with a civil war, like the rest of Africa.”

Wow, what a reason to re-elect a party president, I think: to prevent civil war.

Hard man says that the ANC is acutely aware of Zuma’s flaws and will put a “ring of steel” around him in his second term, which means he won’t be allowed to make important decisions unilaterally.

Another comrade, an ANC woman who has given most of her adult life to the party, says she’s advising her kids to study abroad and get residency overseas. “Look what this man is doing,” she says, with disdain for Zuma in her voice. “He only cares about himself and his family. This is banana republic stuff.”

It is a few months before Mangaung and President Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma is fighting the political battle of his life to stay in power. Although he had told journalist Moshoeshoe Monare in 2008 that he would “prefer to leave after one term”, Zuma later denied this, saying he would never say such a thing because it was up to the ANC to decide if he would serve one or two terms as president.

Five years after defeating Thabo Mbeki convincingly at Polokwane, Zuma was on the ropes, fighting fire after fire over his handling of the multiple crises in his administration.

The party of Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela was, again, searching for its soul, which, according to loyal comrades and opponents of the ANC, had become corrupted.

Something was rotten in the state of Zuma.

While I was writing this book, the ANC in the Northern Cape elected a provincial executive. Four of the five members elected to lead the party in the province for the next five years were implicated in corruption or fraud scandals. The story did not make headlines, nor were there mass protests or national outrage over the election of four accused people to lead the governing party in one of the poorest provinces it governs.

At about the same time, my newspaper, City Press, was at the centre of a perfect storm following the publication of an artwork by artist Brett Murray titled The Spear. The painting, a parody of a famous poster of Lenin, showed Zuma with his genitals hanging out.

The ANC and Zuma took us to court, organised mass protests against the Goodman Gallery (where the painting was being exhibited) and asked its members to boycott City Press — the first such call since the party came to power in 1994. Blade Nzimande, the Minister of Higher Education and Zuma’s strongest ally, called for the artwork to be destroyed.

Whenever I found myself drowning in confusion over the state of affairs in South Africa, I remembered the hard man’s words: “He will do anything to stay in power”.

In spite of all the scandals plaguing Zuma’s term in office, analysts predicted that, against all odds, he was set to secure a second term in office. Perhaps this had something to do with the ANC’s culture of not speaking out against power in public, with the party’s almost covert style of campaigning behind the scenes. Or perhaps it came down to one thing, the only thing Zuma’s foes and friends agree on — that he is a masterful strategist.

I am often reminded of the fact that Zuma ran ANC intelligence from the mid-eighties. “He knows everything about the party. He knows everybody’s dirt. A lot of people cannot afford for Zuma to start speaking,” another ANC veteran tells me. This became a popular refrain during the time that Zuma, who is also affectionately called “Msholozi” (from his clan name), was facing corruption charges relating to the R70 billion arms deal. Zuma’s suited strategists and grass-roots supporters agreed: if this man starts to talk, he could take the party down. Such speculation was fuelled by Zuma himself, who told his supporters outside court that “one day” he would reveal the identities of his persecutors.

Of course, Zuma’s power and grip over the ANC cannot be explained only by his knowing, metaphorically, where the bodies are buried. As president, Zuma made a number of telling appointments to crucial Cabinet positions, especially in the criminal justice cluster.

In most of these cases, the appointees were Zuma loyalists. A significant number had, like Zuma, chequered pasts. I realised over time that Zuma surrounded himself with people who depended on his goodwill to stay in power and enjoy the fruits of the governing elite.

They also depended on him turning a blind eye to the accusations, allegations, charges or rulings against them. Logically, these people weren’t always the best candidates for the job. Zuma’s appointments of people to lead state institutions like the police, the prosecuting authority and the intelligence services also created the inescapable impression that, ultimately, he was protecting himself.

• Extracted from ‘Zuma Exposed’ by Adriaan Basson (Jonathan Ball Publishers). Available from bookshops nationwide.

Five copies of Zuma Exposed by Adriaan Basson are being given away to the first five readers to SMS us. To get your free copy, SMS the words WITNESS ZUMA EXPOSED, followed by your name and surname, to 32697. Winners will be notified telephonically.

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