FROM POWER TO THE DOCK
Trump this week looked a lot like a man who will one day sit, like Jacob Zuma, in the accused’s chair
There was an outstanding picture circulated on Twitter and other social media platforms last week. It is a picture of Jacob Zuma, the former president of our fine republic (it is a fine republic if you temporarily forget the load-shedding during a weekend when the world’s stars were in Joburg to honour Nelson Mandela).
The picture is shot from the side. Zuma’s hands are on his knees and he is sitting, head and upper body forward, alone. He was in the dock at his appearance in court last week on 16 charges that include fraud‚ corruption and racketeering.
Zuma felt unwell during his appearance last week. He had some water. His lawyer said he had low blood pressure and he was given a sugary soft drink.
He didn’t greet his supporters when he went into court as he felt too unwell to even say hello.
That picture, depicting Zuma in his vulnerability and ignominy, evoked memories of Zuma 15 years ago. By 2003 rumours of the payments he had received were circulating. Investigators were sniffing around.
But Zuma and his supporters didn’t give a damn. In 2003 Zuma was about to start an incredible 15-year run of crooked dominance over SA.
In 2005, after he was charged with corruption and racketeering, he scored a major victory by getting his supporters to restore his powers as deputy president of the ANC despite Thabo Mbeki’s caution that this would send the wrong message about the party’s seriousness about corruption and accountability. It was a pivotal moment which changed the ANC’S culture: whereas Mbeki had suspended Zuma until such time as he was cleared, the Zuma ANC brought along a new principle.
It was that you could shamelessly continue in your post — even having power over the institutions that are meant to investigate you — while you faced serious allegations. The idea of stepping aside was demolished.
That led to the rampant rise of corruption throughout the system.
From 2007 to 2017 a new culture took hold. ANC leaders like Gwede Mantashe, Blade Nzimande and many others lost their backbones. They became rabid defenders of Zuma.
Socially, they would laugh uproariously at his jokes even when they were patently unfunny or, worse, sexist and homophobic.
The cult of the personality took root.
That picture of Zuma in the dock reminded me that he was once invincible; that he was once the alpha and omega of the ANC; that he built around himself an army of acolytes, from Julius Malema to Mzwanele Manyi to Atul
Gupta to Nathi Mthethwa, who poisoned our political culture on his behalf.
I am writing this column in a US where President Donald Trump spent most of last week lashing out against the special counsel investigation into the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 US presidential elections. Trump has attacked the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and called the investigation a witch-hunt. Just as Zuma and his acolytes attacked Thuli Madonsela, the admirable former public protector of SA.
Mueller and his team are closing in on Trump’s associates, and by implication on him. Last week Trump’s former longtime lawyer Michael Cohen admitted that well into the presidential campaign in 2016, he and others working for Trump negotiated with important Russians over the building of a possible multimillion-dollar
Trump Tower development in Moscow. E-mail evidence now suggests that Trump’s children Don Jr and Ivanka, and Trump himself, knew about these meetings and lied about them.
The plea deal that Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chair, struck with Mueller fell apart after he repeatedly lied about his business dealings in the Ukraine — with links to Trump. In August Manafort was found guilty on eight felony counts of financial crimes.
Trump blusters and shouts down opponents and critics. He seems invincible.
This past week he seemed tired, confused and afraid.
The demise of Trump has been predicted by many. This week he looked a lot like a man who will one day sit, like Zuma, in the accused’s chair.
Too many of his people have already admitted to crimes.
ANC leaders like Gwede Mantashe, Blade Nzimande and many others lost their backbones