FIKILE-NTSIKELELO MOYA: We can’t airbrush Zuma’s failures from history


Former Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe was eventually buried without the fanfare that had surrounded him for most of his adult life. No big speeches and no political rhetoric. No new lies.

Thankfully the world was spared another speech by Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangwagwa. Listening to him go to absurd lengths about what a loss Mugabe’s death was, one could not help but recall that Mnangwagwa is nicknamed the Crocodile, and therefore his tears were as real as they could be for one who goes by that moniker.

I get that in many cultures it is unkind and impolite to speak ill of the dead. I cannot understand why it is necessary to airbrush “facts” and paint as heroes those who are alive.

Take former South African President Jacob Zuma, for example. It would seem he did not need to wait for his last breath to be a subject of a post-death praise singing, even if these are at odds with the facts.

Social media is awash with tales of what a great champion of black people and opponent of capitalism he was. These fables go as far as saying that it was this very commitment to the wellbeing of black people and of the working class and peasantry that cost him what would have been the last two years of his presidency.

Though the Zuma spin machinery does not explicitly say so, one assumes that all his grand plans would have come to fruition in the last two years or, failing which, be completed by his former wife Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who had unsuccessfully challenged now President Cyril Ramaphosa for the presidency of the ANC.

It is not a figment of our imagination that during the Zuma presidency, a hitherto obscure family from India, the Guptas, suddenly became some type of royals. Not only were they recipients of patronage, but they themselves became so powerful that they freely dispensed it and even decided on who would be in the country’s Cabinet.

While I can grudgingly accommodate the argument that the Guptas disrupted established white business’s monopoly, it does not follow that replacing white business with the Guptas or a few connected elites solves the problems capitalism supposedly imposes.

As the Zondo Commission keeps showing us, under Zuma’s leadership, looting became a national pastime.

The Nkandla homestead stands today as a monument of his excesses and, by his own say-so, indifference to the use of state coffers. Zuma has said he had no idea what they were doing at his house or what it would cost the state.

When he eventually found out that he had a R7 million debt in relation to the house, he opted to not repay the bank – found by black people for the upliftment of the poor and rural folks – thus contributing to its going under.

We cannot airbrush it out of history that the Constitutional Court found that Zuma had failed to uphold, defend and respect the Constitution – basically, he had failed to do what he had publicly sworn he would.

So, all those trying to cast Zuma as a hero should just stop. Alternatively, they should just pray they outlive him so they can start saying all the nice, but fake, stories about him. At least that way they can be excused for being polite to the dead.

Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is an independent journalist and former editor of The Mercury and The Witness.