LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Zuma's arrest doesn't make me happy, but rather evokes pain

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Former president Jacob Zuma leaves the Raymond Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture. (Photo by Gallo Images/Sowetan/Thulani Mbele)
Former president Jacob Zuma leaves the Raymond Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture. (Photo by Gallo Images/Sowetan/Thulani Mbele)

Mark Botha in Cape Town, Western Cape, pens an open letter to former president Jacob Zuma following his arrest. "You will be remembered, both here, through Africa, and around the globe, as a leader who lacked the morality and honour to do your job correctly." 

Dear Jacob Zuma

As I sat glued to the TV last night watching the telenovela-esque events in northern KZN unfold, I found myself surprisingly conflicted. As I drained the last of my now-banned stockpile, I was so sure that I would rejoice in your arrest, celebrating your demise like so many WhatsApp memes and Twitter threads have for years. But no. I felt no thirst for vengeance, no contentment whatsoever - and I was utterly sure that I would.

In the five or so hours running up to your hurried departure from Nkandla, I caught myself reflecting on the tumultuous journey that we've taken together so far. 

I was watching in 2007 as the Polokwane Conference re-shaped the ANC. I was watching in 2009 as the helicopters flew overhead in Tshwane, on towards the Union Buildings and your inauguration. I was watching when the cameras zoomed in on your panicked, ashen-faced reaction to Cyril's victory in 2017 in Nasrec. I was watching when you begrudgingly stepped down on Valentine's Day 2018, now over three years ago. And I was watching last night when you departed your rural palace, headed towards justice at last.

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But lo and behold, I was not dancing in my unheated, chilly home. I was not smiling, gleefully rubbing my hands together and chuckling back at you, as you have chuckled at us for over a decade. I reflected on the sombreness of it all, the dark culmination of so many years of galling delays, abuses of the judicial process and unfounded accusations of bias at those brave enough to take you on. 

Zuma stole hope from us 

I remember the moniker "Mr Teflon" bestowed upon you during the Mbeki era. I had to look the word up to understand what the media was talking about. They couldn't have been more right. But even like the best frying pans, things will eventually stick after a while, it's unavoidable, and I don't think you realise this yet. 

Mr Zuma. You stole from me. You stole from all of us. No, I'm not talking about money or personal wealth. I'm talking about hope. I'm talking about the countless opportunities to make a better life for my family that never came to pass because you and your filthy cronies were simply too greedy to keep the plundering to a minimum.

At the very least, you could have stopped at the Arms Deal, but no. You and your "partners" shamelessly stripped our country to the bone, convinced of your invincibility and so sure of the support you still think you do, but no longer have.

Look around, Mr Zuma. Where is Ace? Where is Tony Yengeni? Where is your ex-wife? Where is Supra and the rest of the RET crew? Where are the millions of people who once thronged the streets just to hear you speak? They're gone, sir, given up on your Sisyphean cause because they have finally seen through your lies, around your impenetrable charisma and behind that trademark chuckle. They now know that you stole from them too. 

Feel pain at Zuma's arrest 

I'm not happy at your arrest. I'm relieved as if I can breathe again. Yes, I know you're probably, somehow, going to walk out of custody far sooner than you deserve, but the fact that you are incredibly there means something to every single South African.

It finally proves that you are not untouchable, despite your unshakeable faith in your own cult status. And if the once all-powerful Msholozi can feel the touch of cold prison bars on his storied hands, then so too can everyone else. From regular citizens like me to the very top of the political ivory tower, the corrupt have been shaken. 

Many people will celebrate your downfall. They will say awful things about you and call for your absolute destruction. I was, until last night, one of those people. But this morning, I feel only pain. Pain and sorrow at what could have been, but never came to pass.

You inherited a country on the up. Our economy was doing pretty well, and the national unity project was looking good. People were happier then, than they are today. Yes, we had issues, and yes, many of those problems persist, but what you have done since you took office is unforgivable. I do not say this lightly, but you've had far more chances than any of us would have, were we in your situation, to come clean.

From stoking racial tensions just to get the heat off your back to allowing a family of gluttonous, ruthlessly villainous thieves to run amok, snatching the slivers of hope out of the hands (and mouths) of millions of people who relied on and trusted in you. These things represent the very worst of democratic and constitutional abuse.

Jacob Zuma must wonder why he is in prison 

Yet, try as I might, the fury that once racked my being at the mere thought of your treachery has given way to a cold pain and an even more sickening anguish. Rage and hate are so much easier to deal with. They let us express our feelings and sometimes take action as a release. But not this pain. This pain is an awful hole in our collective soul that will only be filled when, well... when Jesus comes back.

As you sit there awaiting your lawyers' next desperate trick, I want you to think about why you're actually there. I want you to try, just for a moment, to share the agony that you have caused so many. 

Until you walk free from prison - whether it be on medical grounds (Jackie and Schabir have already set that precedent for you) or through whichever loophole you find to abuse and exploit - I want you to know this: your legacy will forever be tarnished by the treachery that you committed to our nation.

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You will be remembered, both here, through Africa, and around the globe, as a leader who lacked the morality and honour to do your job correctly. You have spat on Mandela's dream, laughed in the face of the millions that you yourself have oppressed, and we will never be able to forgive you. 

Until then, Mr Zuma, know that I do not smile at your incarceration. I simply fear what we have lost. For once in your life, throw yourself at the mercy of justice and the people of South Africa. At the very least, beg for our forgiveness and tell those living in squalor today that it was you, and not "outside forces", the media or so-called "White Monopoly Capital", that has caused South Africa's downward spiral. No, it was unchecked greed that has undone you and irrational denial that keeps you in that cell, both in your mind and in KZN.

Stay warm and healthy, Mr Zuma. We all support you in your quest to finally have your day in court.

With a broken heart, A Child of the Republic.

- Mark Botha lives in Cape Town, Western Cape.

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