Waiting for the axe to fall

2018-01-28 06:00
Jacob Zuma

Jacob Zuma

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Two weeks ago, President Jacob Zuma was booed by hundreds of ANC members at the party’s 106th birthday celebration in East London.

Last week, his party’s national executive committee decided he should be “engaged” about stepping down long before the ANC starts campaigning for the 2019 elections.

It comes as no surprise, then, that the man has retreated to his home in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal.

“I am happy when I am home. I sit and relax, and wake up in the morning hearing the birds and I think, ‘It’s good to be home’,” he told pupils at an event at Mbhuqwini and Velangaye high schools.

It turns out that Nkandla is a pretty big place. The principal of Mbhuqwini High School says the area is “rural and remote”.

Homes built atop lush, green hills are separated by kilometres of open space. The air is clean and fresh. 

Few cars come by and, in places, there is no real road to speak of.

Where there is a road, cars compete with cows, lazy donkeys and overzealous goats to get to where they’re going.

One resident says you can walk for days to get to your destination. In the evenings, you need to stop at a stranger’s home and ask for a place to sleep.

You get interrogated before hospitality is offered and must be able to answer – without hesitation – who you are, who your family is, where you are from, who your chief is and which family he belongs to.

Should your potential host suspect you are up to no good, they will take your life.

When introducing Zuma at the gathering at the schools, Bongi Sithole, the KwaZulu-Natal arts, culture, sport and recreation MEC, said: “Umkhulu wethu, ubaba wethu, umongameli wethu, uyikho konke kuthi.”

The event had been organised by Ukhozi FM to celebrate last year’s top achieving schools.

Msholozi is distracted, though, and lacks his usual energy. He appears to pay little attention, even when speakers acknowledge him directly.

Sithole doesn’t do much for Zuma’s mood when she says the Zulus were mocked in East London.

“Bathi thina asikwazi ukubiza o‘R’, sithi Silili Lamaphosa,” she said, laughing.

Shortly before Zuma’s arrival by helicopter, the rand dipped to below 12 to the dollar for the first time in years.

Zuma’s successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, appeared to be saying all the right things at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this week.

Some speculated that the new ANC president was telling investors that Msholozi was on his way out.

Having cancelled his trip to new Liberian President George Weah’s inauguration at the last minute, it was widely believed that Zuma would resign on Tuesday evening.

But, on Wednesday, his presence was a reminder that he is no Thabo Mbeki, or “inyoka efile”.

He put on a brave face, telling the pupils they could take Nkandla, which so many people look down on, to new heights.

“It is not usual for people to build their homes in rural areas. I am being persecuted for building my house, that is all.

"I built my house myself, but people decided, ‘No it is impossible to go and build in Nkandla, you must be arrested and be a prisoner for building your father’s house,’” he said.

“I did it so that, when I retire, I don’t live in town where you’re constantly paying. You pay for water, electricity, your house and even when you no longer pay a bond, you pay rates. You can’t just be without money in town.

"One day someone will come and take the house and say you don’t pay rates.

"But in my father’s house, there are no rates, if they switch off the electricity, there is fire,” he added, his trademark chuckle drawing laughter from his adoring audience.

For the first time, Zuma spoke about the bombshell he dropped ahead of his party’s national elective conference in Nasrec last month.

By announcing free higher education for the poor, Zuma locked Ramaphosa into a commitment he couldn’t back out of.

This week, Zuma again fired salvos at his detractors, saying that those who say free education is impossible do not know how important it is.

He said money must be found, and it could be sourced by skimming off the top of less important government programmes.

His tenure, he said, would be remembered for the jabs directed at him over his lack of formal education.

He told pupils that one of his relatives asked him who would look after his father’s cattle if he went to school.

Zuma said that, even then, he understood the importance of learning and taught himself.

Out in the fields with other herders he learnt to fight: “Ngangishaya induku, ngingafuni ukuhlulwa.”

He said he mixed the education “from the cows” with formal education he provided himself, and has repeatedly gone head to head with the best intellectual minds.

“If they want to speak English, I speak it. If they want to speak about things high above in the clouds or down under the sea, I can speak about them. I didn’t learn to pass, unlike those at school,” he said.

“I have not forgotten what I learnt. I like it when there is a room full of academics and we quote from big books.

"I like to tell them intentionally that I am not educated so that they undermine me. They meet me and are stunned by how I can match them.”

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Read more on:    cyril ramaphosa  |  jacob zuma  |  nkandla

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