Path to perdi­tion

Ja­cob Zuma’s fall af­ter the Sch­abir Shaik cor­rup­tion trial was swift, but his come­back was al­most as quick and was the most re­mark­able in mod­ern po­lit­i­cal times. The change in his for­tunes, from a rape trial to elec­tion as ANC leader, was the be­gin­ning of

Sunday Times - - Insight - By RAY HART­LEY

The court be­low failed to ad­here to some ba­sic tenets, in par­tic­u­lar that in ex­er­cis­ing the ju­di­cial func­tion, judges are them­selves con­strained by the law Judge Louis Harms Ap­peal court judge in over­turn­ing a high court rul­ing that vir­tu­ally ex­on­er­ated Zuma

It is prob­a­bly a lit­tle un­fair to say that Ja­cob Zuma’s pres­i­dency was based on a lie. But it was based on an over­turned court judg­ment.

Back in 2005, Pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki had fired Zuma from his job as deputy pres­i­dent in the wake of the con­vic­tion of his fi­nan­cial ad­viser, Sch­abir Shaik, on cor­rup­tion and bribery charges.

Judge Hi­lary Squires had not minced his words, plac­ing Zuma at the cen­tre of his ver­dict against Shaik and his fel­low ac­cused, say­ing “all the ac­cused com­pa­nies were used at one time or an­other to pay sums of money to Ja­cob Zuma in con­tra­ven­tion of sec­tion 1(1)(a)(I) or (ii) of the Cor­rup­tion Act”.

It was so damn­ing a ver­dict that Mbeki, af­ter a week of dither­ing, an­nounced to par­lia­ment that Zuma had been fired.

“The cir­cum­stances dic­tate that in the in­ter­est of the hon­ourable deputy pres­i­dent, the gov­ern­ment, our young demo­cratic sys­tem, and our coun­try, it would be best to re­lease the Hon Ja­cob Zuma from his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as deputy pres­i­dent of the repub­lic and mem­ber of the cab­i­net,” Mbeki told a spe­cial sit­ting.

Zuma, fac­ing over 700 counts of bribery, cor­rup­tion and fraud, made a mo­men­tous de­ci­sion. Per­haps he had in mind the old slo­gan of the ANC’s mil­i­tary wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe: “Sub­mit or fight.” He would not sub­mit and fol­low Shaik to jail.

He would fight his way back to the sum­mit of po­lit­i­cal power and then he would dis­man­tle the abil­ity of the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem and the ju­di­ciary to act against him.

It was to be a ti­tanic strug­gle that would de­fine South Africa for more than a decade.

Zuma would mo­bilise his old net­work of ex­iled ANC lead­ers and as­sem­ble a coali­tion of those dis­grun­tled with Mbeki into a rag-tag po­lit­i­cal fight­ing force.

But first he faced a ma­jor ob­sta­cle. He was charged with rap­ing a woman — the daugh­ter of a friend — at his home in For­est Town, Jo­han­nes­burg.

He was found not guilty af­ter the ac­cused — who was then known only by the name Kh­wezi — was sub­jected to bru­tal cross-ex­am­i­na­tion about her past sex life and was found to have pro­vided un­re­li­able ev­i­dence.

Again a high court judge, W J van der Merwe, had strong words for Zuma, say­ing: “Had Rud­yard Ki­pling known of this case at the time he wrote his poem If, he might have added the fol­low­ing: ‘And if you can con­trol your body and your sex­ual urges, then you are a man my son’.”

Laid siege to court

In­stead of re­treat­ing in shame, Zuma used the trial to bring his rag-tag army onto the streets. Young mil­i­tant sup­port­ers laid siege to the High Court in Jo­han­nes­burg, scream­ing their ha­tred for Kh­wezi and singing Zuma’s trade­mark strug­gle song, Umshini wam, a mil­i­tant elegy to the AK47. Its lyrics went: “I want my ma­chine gun/Bring my ma­chine gun/My ma­chine gun, my fa­ther/Bring my ma­chine gun.”

What­ever it lacked in lyri­cal orig­i­nal­ity, the song made up for in mes­sage: Zuma was sav­ing the ANC from Mbeki’s gen­tri­fied fis­cal con­ser­vatism and re­turn­ing it to its raw strug­gle roots.

It was a mes­sage that was at­trac­tive to the ANC’s new youth leader, Julius Malema, who be­came his most out­spo­ken sup­porter. Also drink­ing the Kool-Aid were the SACP’s Blade Nz­i­mande and the then head of Cosatu, Zwelinz­ima Vavi, who vowed that the Zuma tsunami was “un­stop­pable”.

At Polok­wane in De­cem­ber 2007, Zuma was crowned ANC pres­i­dent in the most re­mark­able come­back of mod­ern po­lit­i­cal times.

But, with more than 700 counts of cor­rup­tion and fraud hang­ing over him, it was sim­ply un­ten­able for him to im­me­di­ately as­sume the pres­i­dency.

It is hard to be­lieve now, but with Zuma’s elec­tion came op­ti­mism. Doubts about his fi­nan­cial fi­delity were shelved. Zuma, it was held, was more “in touch with the peo­ple” and would fi­nally of­fer hope for the poor and un­em­ployed.

While Zuma moved into the corner of­fice in Luthuli House, Mbeki put on a show of busi­ness as usual. On Fe­bru­ary 8 2008 — just over 10 years ago to this day — he gave his state of the na­tion ad­dress.

Stand­ing at the same podium from which he had fired Zuma barely three years pre­vi­ously, he now ac­knowl­edged “Mr Ja­cob Zuma, former deputy pres­i­dent of the repub­lic and pres­i­dent of the African Na­tional Con­gress”. He quoted Dick­ens, say­ing it was the best and worst of times, and then dis­agreed that this quote was apt. He in­tro­duced a new con­cept — “busi­ness unusual!” — to de­scribe how the gov­ern­ment would more ag­gres­sively meet its de­liv­ery chal­lenges.

“I am aware,” he said, “of the fact that many in our so­ci­ety are trou­bled by a deep sense of un­ease about where our coun­try will be to­mor­row.”

As the months dragged on, the gulf be­tween Luthuli House and the Union Build­ings widened, as did the un­ease.

Fi­nally, Zuma was handed a gift — a court judg­ment that of­fered him a path to power. Judge Chris Ni­chol­son, cit­ing Mbeki’s in­ter­fer­ence with the pros­e­cu­tion, ruled that the de­ci­sion to pros­e­cute Zuma was “in­valid and is set aside”. The pros­e­cu­tion ser­vice needed to make up its mind afresh on charg­ing Zuma, he said.

The court­room erupted in ap­plause. Zuma, in a dark pin-striped suit, rose to cel­e­brate. The first per­son to em­brace him was Tokyo Sexwale, beam­ing from ear to ear. He was fol­lowed by Mathews Phosa, an­other party grandee iced by Mbeki.

Zuma was not out of the woods yet. It was now up to the pros­e­cu­tion ser­vice to make a fi­nal de­ci­sion about the charges which lin­gered.

Ni­chol­son’s find­ing would be over­turned — you could go so far as to say “de­nounced” — in one of the most scathing judg­ments ever is­sued by the Supreme Court of Ap­peal. The ap­peal court’s Judge Louis Harms said: “For rea­sons that are im­pos­si­ble to fathom, the court be­low failed to ad­here to some ba­sic tenets, in par­tic­u­lar that in ex­er­cis­ing the ju­di­cial func­tion judges are them­selves con­strained by the law.”

But that judg­ment would come a year later. Die koeël, as the old Afrikaans say­ing goes, was

deur die kerk (the die is cast).

Zuma used his ma­jor­ity in the party’s na­tional ex­ec­u­tive to re­move Mbeki.

But be­cause the charges still hung over Zuma, it was deemed un­wise that he as­sume the pres­i­dency im­me­di­ately. In­stead, Kgalema Mot­lanthe was ap­pointed.

The Mot­lanthe pres­i­dency, act­ing on in­struc­tions from Luthuli House, dis­banded the Scor­pi­ons, the in­de­pen­dent FBI-style unit that was re­spon­si­ble for deal­ing with high-pro­file cor­rup­tion cases. It was the first ac­tion taken to keep Zuma out of jail.

Then, un­der grow­ing po­lit­i­cal pres­sure, the act­ing di­rec­tor of na­tional pros­e­cu­tions, Mokotedi Mp­she, an­nounced that the charges against Zuma would not be pur­sued.

Zuma was free to as­sume the pres­i­dency in May 2009.

A pow­er­ful hand

No in­com­ing pres­i­dent had been dealt as pow­er­ful a hand as Zuma since the days of the apartheid over­lords.

He could ap­point a new po­lice chief, a new na­tional di­rec­tor of pros­e­cu­tions, a new head of the se­cret ser­vice and the head of the new Hawks unit, which would re­place the Scor­pi­ons.

In ad­di­tion to this, the po­si­tion of chief ex­ec­u­tive at the state-owned en­ter­prises Transnet and SAA were va­cant and he would be called on to ap­point a new board to the South African Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion.

It was a golden op­por­tu­nity for Zuma to im­ple­ment his stay-out-of-jail scheme.

One of Zuma’s first acts was to re­or­gan­ise South Africa’s in­tel­li­gence struc­tures into one depart­ment, which was to fall un­der the con­trol of a new in­tel­li­gence min­is­ter, Siyabonga Cwele.

Bheki Cele, then a loyal sup­porter from Zuma’s home prov­ince of KwaZulu-Na­tal, was made com­mis­sioner of po­lice in July 2009, de­spite wide­spread mis­giv­ings about the ap­pro­pri­ate­ness of his cow­boy style for so se­ri­ous a job.

An­other loyal lieu­tenant, Menzi Sime­lane, was made the na­tional di­rec­tor of pub­lic pros­e­cu­tions amid an up­roar.

While di­rec­tor-gen­eral of jus­tice, Sime­lane had tes­ti­fied at an in­quiry into the fit­ness of Vusi Pikoli to hold of­fice as pros­e­cu­tions boss. The in­quiry’s con­vener, Frene Gin­wala, had found that “in gen­eral his con­duct left much to be de­sired. His tes­ti­mony was con­tra­dic­tory and

with­out ba­sis in fact or in law”.

Zuma ap­pointed Mo Shaik — the brother of his con­victed fi­nan­cial ad­viser — as head of the se­cret ser­vice and Anwa Dra­mat as head of the new Hawks pri­or­ity crimes unit. As in­sur­ance against any re­main­ing in­stinct for in­de­pen­dence, the unit was placed un­der the di­rect con­trol of the po­lice.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, the po­lice, the Hawks and the direc­torate of pub­lic pros­e­cu­tions showed no in­ter­est in pur­su­ing the charges against Zuma.

The st­ing had been taken out of the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem.

But, in his haste to sub­due this po­ten­tial threat, Zuma had been care­less.

The warn­ings about Cele’s cow­boy style were proven true as he called on the po­lice to take an ag­gres­sive shoot-to-kill ap­proach to crim­i­nals.

Cele awarded him­self the rank of gen­eral and remil­i­tarised the po­lice.

Then the Sun­day Times re­vealed he had pushed through ir­reg­u­lar lease deals for po­lice premises in Pre­to­ria and Dur­ban.

Af­ter a few months of pre­var­i­ca­tion, Zuma was left with no choice but to an­nounce in June 2012: “I have de­cided to re­lease Gen­eral Cele from his du­ties.”

In Oc­to­ber, the Con­sti­tu­tional Court found Zuma’s ap­point­ment of Sime­lane was in­valid. When Shaik and Dra­mat’s loy­alty came into ques­tion, they too were dropped.

Zuma did not re­act to crit­i­cism of his poor ap­point­ment record. In­stead, he re­placed those who were made to re­sign or who were forced out with peo­ple he be­lieved would be more loyal.

An­other Zuma ap­point­ment, Mx­olisi Nx­as­ana, would be forced to step down as pros­e­cu­tions di­rec­tor in 2014 af­ter it emerged he’d had pre­vi­ous brushes with the law.

Zuma knew his shadow se­cu­rity state would in­evitably find it­self in con­flict with the con­sti­tu­tional dis­pen­sa­tion. In an­tic­i­pa­tion of this, he moved to shore up his pri­mary de­fen­sive weapon — par­lia­ment.

He had in­stalled Baleka Mbete as Speaker and packed the benches with MPs who would stay true to his cause. Mbete had de­fected from the Mbeki camp to Zuma’s and was keen to prove her loy­alty.

Bring them to heel

If the cow­ing of the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem was the first ob­jec­tive, the sec­ond was to bring to heel the re­main­ing parts of the me­dia that were crit­i­cal of him.

Zuma at­tempted to muz­zle the press in 2010 — barely a week af­ter thou­sands of in­ter­na­tional jour­nal­ists had left the coun­try af­ter cov­er­ing the 2010 foot­ball World Cup — through dra­co­nian “pro­tec­tion of in­for­ma­tion” leg­is­la­tion which would make it il­le­gal for jour­nal­ists to be in pos­ses­sion of leaked doc­u­ments that “threat­ened state se­cu­rity”, with a pos­si­ble jail sen­tence of 15 years. Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials would be able to des­ig­nate ma­te­rial “clas­si­fied” at their will.

At the same time the ANC re­leased a dis­cus­sion paper on a pro­posed “me­dia ap­peals tri­bunal” that would over­see com­plaints about press re­port­ing.

The moves against the me­dia fol­lowed sus­tained re­port­ing on abuses of state money spent on con­struct­ing Zuma’s Nkandla res­i­dence.

A third strat­egy was even more am­bi­tious — tak­ing the st­ing out of the ju­di­ciary. Shortly be­fore tak­ing of­fice, Zuma had said that the sta­tus of judges of the Con­sti­tu­tional Court needed to be re­viewed be­cause they “were not God”. He sought to bend the court to his will, over­look­ing Dik­gang Moseneke as chief jus­tice in favour of Sandile Ng­cobo. Moseneke had made veiled crit­i­cisms of Zuma.

Zuma may have be­lieved that Ng­cobo would serve him as an ally (not for the first time, a mis­taken as­sump­tion) be­cause he had writ­ten a mi­nor­ity judg­ment in a case con­cern­ing him.

When Ng­cobo re­tired in 2011, Zuma again over­looked Moseneke, nom­i­nat­ing Mo­go­eng Mo­go­eng. It was an­other mis­cal­cu­la­tion. The court con­tin­ued to is­sue judg­ments crit­i­cal of the gov­ern­ment. Zuma turned up the heat. In a 2012 in­ter­view with jour­nal­ist Moshoeshoe Monare, he said: “We don’t want to re­view the Con­sti­tu­tional Court, we want to re­view its pow­ers. There are dissenting judg­ments which we read. You will find that the dissenting one has more logic than the one that en­joyed the ma­jor­ity. What do you do in that case?” The judges were, he said, “in­flu­enced by what’s hap­pen­ing and in­flu­enced by you guys”. By “you guys”, Zuma meant the me­dia.

The stark­est il­lus­tra­tion of Zuma’s poor judg­ment of who would serve his in­ter­ests was ap­point­ing Thuli Madon­sela pub­lic pro­tec­tor.

In all of th­ese moves aimed at cow­ing the se­cu­rity ma­chin­ery, clos­ing down the space for free ex­pres­sion and sub­or­di­nat­ing in­sti­tu­tions to his po­lit­i­cal will, Zuma en­joyed the back­ing of the ANC.

But sup­port was be­gin­ning to fray. His bad ap­point­ments and the crit­i­cism of his spend­ing on Nkandla were caus­ing some al­lies to have sec­ond thoughts.

In an at­tempt to project party unity, he made a bold de­ci­sion. At the party’s 2012 con­fer­ence, Cyril Ramaphosa re­turned from more than a decade in busi­ness to be elected deputy pres­i­dent on Zuma’s slate.

Ramaphosa, who had his eye on the pres­i­dency af­ter Zuma, played a canny po­lit­i­cal game. He would not be drawn into pub­lic crit­i­cism of Zuma un­til he had built enough of a base within the party to be sure that he could win a fight to the death.

Zuma, mis­tak­ing this for loy­alty, kept Ramaphosa close. Ramaphosa smiled, pat­ted him on the back and bided his time.

Trou­ble in the chicken run

But big trou­ble was com­ing.

Madon­sela showed met­tle when she in­ves­ti­gated the Nkandla homestead. By now, the cost of this project was es­ti­mated to be north of R250-mil­lion.

Built on a hill­side, the com­pound in­cluded nu­mer­ous dwellings, an am­phithe­atre, swim­ming pool, a cat­tle cor­ral, a chicken run and a tuck-shop to be run by one of his wives. Madon­sela found that Zuma should pay back some of the money spent be­cause it could not be jus­ti­fied on se­cu­rity grounds.

Zuma sim­ply re­fused to pay, in­struct­ing his po­lice min­is­ter, Nathi Nh­leko, to con­duct his own in­quiry, and his se­cu­rity min­is­ter, David Mahlobo, to dig up dirt on Madon­sela. The re­sults were darkly comic.

Mahlobo in­sti­gated an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Madon­sela’s role as a “for­eign in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tive”, while Nh­leko pro­duced a re­port that found Zuma did not owe a cent for the Nkandla ren­o­va­tions.

The re­port was adopted with gusto by the loyal ANC MPs in par­lia­ment af­ter a pre­sen­ta­tion in which wa­ter was pumped from the pool through a fire hose to the strains of O Sole Mio.

Na­tional in­credulity was mount­ing, but Zuma was un­de­terred.

The great bank rob­bery

Zuma moved to im­ple­ment the next phase of his power plan — a takeover of the Na­tional Trea­sury.

Once he sensed that he en­joyed im­punity, he had be­gun to cast around for ways of lev­er­ag­ing money out of state or­gans. He had al­ready moved to take con­trol of the coun­try’s giant state-owned en­ter­prises.

In what would come to be de­scribed as “state cap­ture”, this plan was as au­da­cious as it was cor­rupt.

Once loyal lack­eys had been in­stalled on the boards and in the man­age­ment of th­ese cor­po­ra­tions, their pro­cure­ment spend­ing was di­verted to cor­rupt con­tracts which ben­e­fited Zuma as­so­ci­ates, such as the Gupta fam­ily.

Zuma’s son Duduzane oc­cu­pied a se­nior po­si­tion in the Gupta fam­ily em­pire. Eskom coal con­tracts were given to a Gupta com­pany un­der du­bi­ous cir­cum­stances.

A con­tract for lo­co­mo­tives at Transnet was cor­ruptly awarded. The lo­co­mo­tives were the wrong size to op­er­a­teon South African rail lines.

There was one re­main­ing ob­sta­cle to this whole­sale con­ver­sion of state en­ter­prises into cor­rupt cash ma­chines — the Trea­sury.

Un­der Trevor Manuel, Pravin Gord­han and Nh­lanhla Nene, the Trea­sury had been led by fi­nance min­is­ters who en­sured that it would main­tain fis­cal dis­ci­pline, keep­ing the coun­try’s fi­nan­cial rep­u­ta­tion in­tact with global lenders and in­oc­u­lat­ing the econ­omy against a cy­cle of bor­row­ing and ris­ing debt-ser­vic­ing costs.

The Trea­sury had be­gun to clash with the state-owned en­ter­prises over ir­re­spon­si­ble spend­ing and con­tracts that ap­peared to be fi­nan­cially im­pru­dent.

In 2015, Nene clashed with SAA chair­woman Dudu Myeni — the head of Ja­cob Zuma’s foun­da­tion and the pres­i­dent’s close per­sonal friend — over air­craft con­tracts that ap­peared to in­tro­duce a mys­te­ri­ous and un­nec­es­sary mid­dle­man.

In De­cem­ber 2015, Zuma stunned the na­tion when he fired Nene, re­plac­ing him with Des van Rooyen, a back­bench MP.

This was too much, even for the usu­ally ac­qui­es­cent lead­ers of the ANC.

Af­ter the rand plum­meted against the dol­lar and Euro­pean cur­ren­cies, and busi­ness, union and civic lead­ers united in ex­press­ing hor­ror. Ramaphosa and the ANC’s trea­surer-gen­eral, Zweli Mkhize, en­cour­aged by busi­ness lead­ers, per­suaded him to re­lent.

Three days later he re-ap­pointed Gord­han to the fi­nance min­istry — a move which be­gan to re­build con­fi­dence in the coun­try’s fi­nan­cial man­age­ment.

When it emerged that Zuma’s busi­ness con­nec­tions in the Gupta fam­ily had of­fered deputy fi­nance min­is­ter Mce­bisi Jonas the po­si­tion of fi­nance min­is­ter, Zuma was ex­posed as hav­ing “out­sourced” cab­i­net ap­point­ments.

Once again the party came to his de­fence, re­fus­ing to con­demn him pub­licly. Be­cause of his fail­ure to bend the en­tire me­dia and the ju­di­ciary to his will, it was in­evitable that Zuma’s shadow se­cu­rity state would come into con­flict with the con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy in which it lived an un­com­fort­able life.

It all came to a head in Fe­bru­ary 2016, when Zuma was taken to court over his re­fusal to “pay back the money”.

The case was brought to court by his arch-en­emy, Julius Malema, whom he had fired from the party for dissenting over key poli­cies. The ver­dict, de­liv­ered on

Fe­bru­ary 9, was dev­as­tat­ing.

A line in the sand

Chief Jus­tice Mo­go­eng drew a sharp line in the sand, in­form­ing Zuma that as pres­i­dent, he was “a con­sti­tu­tional be­ing by de­sign, a na­tional pathfinder, the quin­tes­sen­tial com­man­der-in-chief of state af­fairs and the per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of this na­tion’s con­sti­tu­tional project”.

And, he said: “The pres­i­dent thus failed to up­hold, de­fend and re­spect the con­sti­tu­tion as the supreme law of the land. This fail­ure is man­i­fest from the sub­stan­tial dis­re­gard for the re­me­dial ac­tion taken against him by the pub­lic pro­tec­tor in terms of her con­sti­tu­tional pow­ers.”

Af­ter a meet­ing of the party’s top six lead­ers, Zuma laughed off the judg­ment, re­fus­ing to take re­spon­si­bil­ity and apol­o­gis­ing for any “con­fu­sion” that he might have caused. He prof­fered the bizarre de­fence that what he had done had been within the law at the time be­cause the Con­sti­tu­tional Court had not yet ruled on it.

Again, while there had been crit­i­cism be­hind closed doors by some of the party’s top six, there would be no pub­lic break with Zuma. ANC sec­re­tary-gen­eral Gwede Man­tashe took to the podium to of­fer Zuma the “unan­i­mous” sup­port of the lead­er­ship.

Four days later, the ANC’s ex­tended na­tional work­ing com­mit­tee — a broader meet­ing of all the party’s lead­er­ship — lined up be­hind Zuma, say­ing there were no grounds for im­peach­ment.

Even as they reaf­firmed their faith in Zuma, trou­bles were mount­ing. The econ­omy, dam­aged by years of failed pol­icy and Zuma’s at­tempts to dom­i­nate the Trea­sury, was at its weak­est point in a decade.

Un­der Zuma, South Africa’s once-vaunted min­ing sec­tor had been hit by strikes and clumsy state in­ter­ven­tion. It had been the coun­try’s largest earner of for­eign ex­change; now it was de­ter­ring for­eign in­vest­ment.

Un­em­ploy­ment reached an all-time high — the of­fi­cial fig­ure was 26%, but some put it as high as 35% — as Zuma un­did Mbeki’s care­ful pol­icy of “fis­cal dis­ci­pline” in favour of open­ing the gov­ern­ment cof­fers to spend on a bloated civil ser­vice.

In April 2016, Zuma was once more the sub­ject of a scathing judg­ment, this time by Judge Aubrey Ledwaba in the High Court in Pre­to­ria.

The op­po­si­tion DA had chal­lenged the drop­ping of cor­rup­tion charges against Zuma. The court found: “Hav­ing re­gard to the con­spec­tus of the ev­i­dence be­fore us, we find that Mr Mp­she [former di­rec­tor of pub­lic pros­e­cu­tions] found him­self un­der pres­sure and he de­cided to dis­con­tinue the pros­e­cu­tion of Mr Zuma and con­se­quently made an ir­ra­tional de­ci­sion.”

Af­ter sev­eral weeks of si­lence, Zuma and the pros­e­cut­ing au­thor­ity, now headed by Shaun Abra­hams, said they would ap­peal against the judg­ment. Abra­hams would play his part in an­other un­fold­ing drama.

Gord­han had con­tin­ued to hold the line against cor­rupt net­works in the sta­te­owned en­ter­prises, much to Zuma’s cha­grin. Ru­mours be­gan cir­cu­lat­ing that Gord­han was to be fired.

In Oc­to­ber 2016, Abra­hams took the ex­tra­or­di­nary step of con­ven­ing a press con­fer­ence to an­nounce that Gord­han was to be charged over the early re­tire­ment of a se­nior of­fi­cial at SARS. The al­le­ga­tion was that Gord­han had il­le­gally au­tho­rised the early re­tire­ment.

There was shock that grew when it was re­vealed that Abra­hams had, on the day be­fore the an­nounce­ment, met Zuma and three cab­i­net min­is­ters at the ANC’s head­quar­ters. Abra­hams claimed they had been meet­ing to dis­cuss stu­dent un­rest. Few be­lieved him.

When it be­came ap­par­ent that the case against Gord­han had no chance of suc­cess, Abra­hams con­vened an­other press con­fer­ence where he an­nounced the charges had been with­drawn.

Af­ter a decade of con­tro­versy, scathing court judg­ments, and al­le­ga­tions of po­lit­i­cal bul­ly­ing and crony­ism, Zuma was hit­ting an all-time low.

The party was about to pay a high price.

De­serted by the peo­ple

In Au­gust 2016, lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions de­liv­ered a mas­sive blow to the party.

The met­ros of Tsh­wane, Jo­han­nes­burg and Nel­son Man­dela Bay, as well as sev­eral oth­ers, fell un­der op­po­si­tion con­trol for the first time.

More shock­ing was that the party, de­spite spend­ing a ru­moured R1-bil­lion on cam­paign­ing, re­ceived 53.9% of the ag­gre­gated ward and pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion vote. For the first time, the prospect of los­ing elec­toral power was real.

Cor­rup­tion, high un­em­ploy­ment and poor ser­vice de­liv­ery un­der ad­min­is­tra­tions run un­der Zuma’s um­brella had taken their toll.

Zuma showed no signs that he was pre­pared to change di­rec­tion to limit the po­lit­i­cal dam­age to the ANC. He had cho­sen his course and he would see it through.

In March 2017, Zuma fired Gord­han and Jonas and ap­pointed Malusi Gi­gaba fi­nance min­is­ter.

His first choice had been Brian Molefe, who had been sworn in as an MP in an­tic­i­pa­tion of his el­e­va­tion to the cab­i­net. Molefe had run Eskom when sev­eral dodgy de­ci­sions that favoured the Gup­tas had been made.

Re­al­is­ing that Molefe was now in the thick of the state cap­ture scan­dal, Zuma chose Gi­gaba, an am­bi­tious and rel­a­tively young min­is­ter who had been play­ing on his side since the Polok­wane vic­tory.

But Zuma’s aura was dim­ming within the party.

The rag-tag army that had brought him to power had long de­serted him.

Malema turned ev­ery Zuma ap­pear­ance in par­lia­ment into a na­tion­ally tele­vised cir­cus of in­sult­ing crit­i­cism which in­evitably ended in scuf­fles as se­cu­rity sought to re­move the party’s MPs.

Sexwale and Phosa, along with a swathe of se­nior veter­ans, dis­tanced them­selves from Zuma. The trade union move­ment an­nounced that it would sup­port Ramaphosa’s can­di­dacy for the pres­i­dency and the SACP now said it had erred and Zuma was not fit to be pres­i­dent.

Ramaphosa, sensing that he now had suf­fi­cient sup­port within the party to dash to the fin­ish line, be­gan pub­licly crit­i­cis­ing state cap­ture, say­ing its ben­e­fi­cia­ries should be jailed and should be made to re­turn the money they had stolen.

Fi­nally, in Oc­to­ber 2017, Zuma’s decade-long bat­tle to stay out of jail ap­peared to be fal­ter­ing. The Supreme Court of Ap­peal ruled that the de­ci­sion to pros­e­cute Zuma over the Shaik bribery and cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions “can­not be faulted”.

Zuma had one fi­nal ace up his sleeve — a cam­paign for his former wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, to be­come the next ANC pres­i­dent and there­fore the next pres­i­dent of the repub­lic.

The rag-tag army was gone. In its place was a new army of min­is­ters wad­ing through scan­dals led by Dlamini-Zuma and the dis­cred­ited Carl Niehaus.

By De­cem­ber 2017, a key pil­lar of sup­port for Zuma, the ANC in the Mpumalanga prov­ince — now hold­ing the sec­ond-largest num­ber of elec­toral votes af­ter KwaZu­luNatal — de­clared it was neu­tral and would sup­port “unity” at the party’s con­fer­ence. Zuma’s pre­ferred can­di­date, Dlamini-Zuma, was de­feated by Ramaphosa.

Then be­gan the game of cat and mouse over Zuma’s con­tin­ued oc­cu­pa­tion of the Union Build­ings.

Zuma had lost but he was still pres­i­dent. He would fight one fi­nal bat­tle — to hold onto of­fice un­til 2019 when the next elec­tion was due. It was a loser’s fight. The court­room, which had been avoided for 13 years, beck­oned.

The pres­i­dent thus failed to up­hold, de­fend and re­spect the con­sti­tu­tion as the supreme law of the land Judge Mo­go­eng Mo­go­eng Chief Jus­tice of the Con­sti­tu­tional Court

Pic­ture: Getty Im­ages

Pic­ture: TBG Ar­chive

ZUMA’S HEY­DAY Sup­port­ers of Ja­cob Zuma protest against his rape trial at the High Court in Jo­han­nes­burg in 2006.

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