Zuma’s fall from grace gave him space to plot come­back

Some key events from this week in his­tory are re­flected in the fol­low­ing re­ports from the ar­chives of the Ar­gus’s 160-year-old ti­tles

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - MICHAEL MOR­RIS

IF A week in pol­i­tics is a long time, a decade is an eon.

This much is plain from three tan­ta­lis­ing head­lines from the sec­ond week of June, 2005: “Is this the end of the road for Ja­cob Zuma?” was the first. The sec­ond was: “Ac­count­abil­ity and good gov­er­nance be­fore all else”, and the third – the most ac­cu­rate of the three, it turns out – “ANC be­comes bat­tle­field for Zuma’s fu­ture”.

We can only imag­ine how, in his more re­flec­tive mo­ments, Ja­cob Zuma thinks about the events of June 14, 2005, the mo­ment when, as one of those re­ports put it: “Pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki’s iron fist came crash­ing down (and) he fired Deputy Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma”.

An­other re­port cap­tured the drama of the mo­ment: “The Reuters flash at 11 min­utes af­ter two o’clock – a spare seven words, all in cap­i­tals – read like a head­line: ‘S Africa’s Mbeki fires Deputy Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’. In the old days, a bell would have sounded on telex ma­chines in news­rooms across the world. That there was no bell shortly af­ter 2pm yes­ter­day didn’t mat­ter, and didn’t de­tract from the crisp essence of a po­lit­i­cal courage many thought Thabo Mbeki did not pos­sess.”

It al­most doesn’t bear imag­in­ing how Thabo Mbeki re­mem­bers those days.

Or how South Africans might make sense of the fol­low­ing: “For some years now, Pres­i­dent Mbeki and other se­nior mem­bers of the ANC have, with in­creas­ing im­pa­tience, crit­i­cised politi­cians and func­tionar­ies who have abused their po­si­tions for per­sonal gain, declar­ing that cor­rup­tion will not be tol­er­ated. “But there was a creep­ing sus­pi­cion of a wide dif­fer­ence be­tween the words and the deeds of the rul­ing party. In an al­most un­think­ably dra­matic way, Mbeki dis­pelled such sus­pi­cions yes­ter­day. “Where so many of the ten­ta­tive, de­fen­sive ma­noeu­vrings of the past decade sug­gested that, when key peo­ple were at risk, the ANC was a glad in­her­i­tor of the Nat tra­di­tion of ig­nor­ing crit­i­cism and brazen­ing out con­tro­versy on the strength, too of­ten, of the in­no­cent-un­til-proved-guilty ar­gu­ment, yes­ter­day’s firm han­dling of a politi­cian as se­nior and as pow­er­ful as Zuma casts a very dif­fer­ent light on the gov­ern­ing party. It can be taken more se­ri­ously and, hold­ing to its new prece­dent, it will be.”

That re­port ended: “Mbeki’s sharpest critic, DA leader Tony Leon, is prob­a­bly right in say­ing: ‘This day will be re­mem­bered as a land­mark in our na­tion’s his­tory. From now on, ac­count­abil­ity and po­lit­i­cal courage will al­ways be mea­sured against it’.”

How wist­fully many will read this, from an­other re­port: “What does all of this mean? It means, sim­ply put, that Zuma is fin­ished. It means that what we are wit­ness­ing is one of the few steps in the final act that will kill off Zuma’s chances for the big­gest job in the coun­try.”

On the face of it, it shows that jour­nal­ists can be very wrong – but the same is true of any ob­server of an iso­lated event in a se­quence. The penalty, for jour­nal­ists, is that they are re­quired to pro­vide a con­sid­ered in­sight ev­ery 24 hours.

But, in pol­i­tics, it seems un­nec­es­sary to point out, the best ad­vice is: never say never.

The one re­port that was on the but­ton was the one head­lined “ANC be­comes bat­tle­field for Zuma’s fu­ture”, which be­gan: “Pres­i­dent Thabo than 10 000 pupils gathered near Phe­feni High School. They threw stones at the po­lice, smash­ing sev­eral wind­screens.

Later the pupils held a white man hostage af­ter some­one shouted: “Here’s a White man. Let’s get him.” Stones rained on his truck. The truck was set upon with axes, crow­bars, stones and… more.

Pass­ing taxis were stopped and driv­ers were told to give the Black power salute. If they did not, their ve­hi­cles were ei­ther rocked or stoned.

About mid­day at Or­lando West, two de­liv­ery vans – one car­ry­ing milk, the other bread – were looted and stoned. The driv­ers were held up and robbed of their tak­ings. Mbeki’s iron fist came crash­ing down yes­ter­day when he fired Deputy Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma, but the real bat­tle now moves to the ANC.”

It went on: “Although it was the pres­i­dent’s con­sti­tu­tional pre­rog­a­tive to fire his deputy, Zuma re­mains the deputy pres­i­dent of the ANC and has lob­bied the length and breadth of the coun­try to shore up sup­port in the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

“How­ever, mem­bers of the ANC Youth League, among Zuma’s most vo­cif­er­ous sup­port­ers, are not the king­mak­ers of old, and those within the al­liance who pub­licly backed Zuma failed to chal­lenge the pres­i­dent yes­ter­day at a meet­ing in Cape Town, de­spite ear­lier ‘war talk’.

“Even Cosatu lead­ers such as Zwelinz­ima Vavi and Wil­lie Madisha, who con­tinue to be vo­cal in their sup­port, do not have a united trade union move­ment be­hind them on the Zuma ques­tion.

“Madisha fired an­other salvo yes­ter­day. He told 702 TalkRa­dio that his or­gan­i­sa­tion would not take Zuma’s sack­ing ly­ing down and would fight back.

“Zuma sup­port­ers, mean­while, are pre­par­ing for their man to be king.

“The cli­max of this po­lit­i­cal war is ex­pected at the ANC con­fer­ence in 2007, when Mbeki is ex­pected to fight to re­tain the pres­i­dency of the party.”

He fought, but lost – to Ja­cob Zuma – on De­cem­ber 18, 2007. Zuma went on to be­come the ANC’s pres­i­den­tial can­di­date in the 2009 elec­tion.

On an­other June day ex­actly a decade ear­lier, in 1999, Mbeki had taken over the reins from Nel­son Man­dela, declar­ing – as the head­line on that day cap­tured it – “Let us be­lieve in our African dream”.

It be­came, in­stead, a per­sonal night­mare and, many be­lieve, a na­tional one, too.

At the other end of Soweto… a me­chan­i­cal horse and trailer lorry were stopped. Much of its cargo of beer was taken be­fore the ve­hi­cle was set alight.

An ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fice was set alight and records were de­stroyed. The of­fi­cials fled when they saw the pupils ap­proach.

The de­mon­stra­tors then marched to White City No 1 of­fice and ran­sacked it be­fore set­ting it alight. Over­head, two he­li­copters were drop­ping tear gas bombs.

Near Cross­roads, a man lay with a bul­let wound in the head. When re­porters tried to in­ter­view the po­lice guard­ing the body, they were told: “It’s none of your busi­ness.”


For­mer pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki and Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma ahead of the of­fi­cial un­veil­ing of Nel­son Man­dela’s statue dur­ing the 2013 Na­tional Day of Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion at the Union Build­ings in Pre­to­ria.


A po­lice­man, armed with a hand­gun and a base­ball bat, dur­ing the 1976 ‘unrest’ in Cape Town.

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