Whereas there might be many faces to Jacob Zuma, most of them can be condensed into two primary themes. He is the villain, ominous and threatening and openly defiant of the law, of the NEC, and of the wishes of the country. Or he is the victim; wide eyed, picked on, and singled out and for minor reason.
There is almost no better example of this strategy at play than was displayed in his SABC interview of almost two years to the day. He was being pressured to step aside, to hand over the reins and to let the ANC try to move on without him. It was then that he made the following statement.
“I have done nothing wrong.
No one has told me what I have done wrong.
No one has been able to furnish what I’ve done.
If I’ve done something wrong, there are processes within the ANC. I found it very unfair to me that this issue must be raised all the time.”
This is the quintessential victim theme. In order to portray himself as the victim, he needed to establish two things. Firstly his is innocence, because a victim is never at fault, and secondly that he had been singled out to receive this treatment. That he was subject to abuse. He does both. By claiming that he does not know what he has done and that no one will leave him alone, he establishes a narrative that still endures and that can be used as and when needed.
This is easily seen two years later when he openly defying the Constitutional Court ruling, demanding that he should appear before the Zondo Commission. One of his primary defenders within the ANC, Ace Magashule, picks up and continues the theme. When approached by the press, he has the following to say.
“What has Zuma done now? Just leave comrade Zuma alone. President Zuma is a South African. He has his own rights,”
And whereas Zuma is indeed South African, that indeed he has his own rights, by this statement Magashule sent a very clear signal as to the defence that would be employed. One could reasonably assume that it was glaringly obvious even to him what Zuma had done wrong “now” considering that Zuma had stated publicly that he intended defying a court order. And yet, Magashule reaffirms the narrative of victim Zuma.
But we should not be fooled. Behind the very thin veneer of sensitivity, doe eyed bafflement and even hurt, lies a more sinister and much more dangerous man.
Jacob Zuma’s past and his close association with the State Security Association has made him a man to fear. Rumours of his ruthless have shrouded him for years. He is a man of secrets and a holder of the secrets of others. More than that, he controls others around him through the exposure of theirs.
In June 2018 as Jacob Zuma stood outside the Durban Magistrate Court on charges of corruption, who spoke in isiZulu to those who had gathered. In his speech he attacked his detractors, saying those who accused him of being corrupt are corrupt themselves. The former president said that he was tired of keeping quiet and issued a very clear threat that he “will retaliate if provoked.”
He never defined “provocation.”
This is perhaps why the ANC’s NEC has yet to offer a coherent word of condemnation for the former President’s open defiance of the law. Very little else could explain the reluctance to do so considering the reputational damage that this is having on the party.
In the last few days, President Cyril Ramaphosa took to the high trapeze with a statement of verbal gymnastics. Try as he did to make it known that he respects the Zondo Commission and the Courts, he also asked for us to give the former President time and space, perhaps on the assumption that given the time, Zuma would come to do the right thing all on his “ace.” Aside from “time and space” not being considered a legal defence or allowance traditionally asked for, experience with Zuma is not on the side of anyone hoping that this might happen. He has shown himself to be immovable, remorseless, and deaf in hearing anything but the voices that he chooses to hear. What it displays more than anything is that the president and the NEC do not have the confidence to deal appropriately with him. Whether it is because they fear him, fear his information or feel sorry for him, is yet to be seen.
Jacob Zuma is not a victim. On the contrary. If there is a victim in all of this, it is the country that he swore to serve and the wonderful people of South Africa who deserved so much more.