YONELA DIKO: Jacob Zuma's last stand - a decade in the making


Former President Jacob Zuma has always understood that a weakened African National Congress (ANC) would be a potent tool in his single-minded plan of leaching off every hard-working South African. He knew that once he weakened the governing party, he would also weaken the government and its institutions, which would ensure his hold on state power was unchallenged. Most importantly, a weakened ANC and government, full of broken promises and unmet expectations, would result in a huge trust deficit with people so that when the time came for "an out of power" Zuma to be punished, it would be easier to turn the people against an untrusted ANC.

This is the conundrum that faced the ANC, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal, when instigated chaos and destruction of the last two weeks found people pliant and complicit. Could the ANC in the province afford to break up with Zuma while having effectively broken up with the people? The years of mistrust, poor service and corruption, ironically by a Zuma-led ANC, which had already thinned the ANC’s electoral power in the province to frightening levels, crippled the ANC’s ability to lead the people against a well-funded and organised attack on the state.

Most importantly, this environment of mistrust between the ANC and the people found a humble pretext of a desperate Zuma who claimed to have wanted to do things for the people but was shackled by an organisation led by people who don’t care about the black poor. Zuma managed to reinvent himself as a black messiah through an organised offshoot of dubious characters who vulgarised the concept of radical economic transformation (RET) and turned it from a policy into a hustle.

This RET as an organised formation has become home for all manner of vagabonds, disgruntled MK veterans, swindlers, tricksters, gamblers; what Karl Marx calls adventurous offshoots of the bourgeoisie and the French call La bohème. These are the people who have always formed the core of Zuma's henchmen and support - people who have no problem stealing from poor black people while claiming to represent their best interests.


In 2005, then general secretary of Cosatu, Zwelinzima Vavi, likened the support for Zuma to a "tsunami" that would be impossible to stop. The South African Communist Party also declared Zuma as their only hope for the working class. The ANC Youth League was ready to kill for Zuma and would be his henchmen all the way to the throne.

Five years later, towards the ANC's national general council of 2010, almost all the individuals and organisations that supported Zuma were decrying what they called erosion of ANC traditional values. These former Zuma supporters were lamenting corruption that was rising, state contracts going to friends at the expense of delivering services, and lack of separation between party and state.

Zuma would try to put his cronies in every provincial executive council of the ANC, every regional executive committee, and would make sure that through those powerful ANC decision-making bodies, state contracts and largess to his supporters was maintained. The emergence of inept and wretched leaders like Zandile Gumede in eThekwini - a region with so much talent - was not by accident. The ANC had to dumb down and be filled with jailbirds and lazzaronis (in the Age of Revolution, the Lazzaroni, or Lazzari, of Naples were the poorest of the lower class).

An ANC that was supported by the people turned into an ANC that supported Zuma and his minions. When that ANC was needed to talk to the people and prevent them from being pawns in a deliberate plan to destroy communities, the ANC of the people was not there.


In order to dismantle both the ANC and the state, Zuma drove a wedge within the ANC that sought a pretext for all the legal troubles he had entangled himself - the curious case of "state institutions being used to fight political battles". High among these institutions was the Directorate of Special Operations, then known as the Scorpions, and the National Prosecuting Authority under which it fell.

The first task, therefore, of a Zuma-led ANC faction was to take a decision at an ANC conference to disband the anti-corruption body, the Scorpions, which would officially happen two years later in 2009. The National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) would also see great interference and high turnover throughout Zuma's leadership years, losing the best talent in the process and becoming a shadow of its former self.

After a protracted battle to ensure then NDPP, the highly principled and courageous Vusi Pikoli, did not return to his job, Zuma found his get-out-of-jail ticket in Pikoli’s replacement, acting NDPP Mokotedi Mpshe. Mpshe lived up to the promise and unchained Zuma shortly before he was sworn in as president. Zuma, however, wanted a more permanent solution with someone he could absolutely trust as a like-minded, dubious character who would do anything to please him and keep him out of jail.

Zuma thought he found his saviour in the controversial advocate, Menzi Simelane, who held this post from 2009 to 2012 until his appointment was set aside as irregular. This was a huge setback, with all kinds of possibilities and uncertainties, something that Zuma was incapable of living with. Zuma was not going to give up, however, he was going to stick to what worked - running the institutions through acting heads. He then found another charlatan - Nomgcobo Jiba - to act once more, and the NDPP would further sink into disrepute and darkness.

Zuma's eyes were also in state intelligence and he got entangled in it even before he was president. His hand in intelligence came out towards the party's Polokwane conference, where there was a clear breakaway of yet again dubious characters within intelligence who would strike out in the name of Zuma. Billy Masetlha and other senior intelligence officers were suspended in 2005 by then Minister of Intelligence Ronnie Kasrils for using state resources to spy on then President Thabo Mbeki’s ally, Saki Macozoma.

There was no guessing what Zuma would do upon ascending to the presidency - bring back the people who were fired for using intelligence to aid his campaign. Zuma would play the same game with police, chopping and changing the post of chief of police with dubious characters who would embarrass themselves as Zuma cronies who don’t respect the law.

The third area of interest for Zuma was to ensure personal survival and continued looting without the unblinking eye of the taxman. Zuma had lingering legal charges that he had been fending off for years, among which were charges of racketeering, corruption and 12 counts of fraud – nine of which were allegedly for making false income tax returns. There were also charges of tax evasion and fraud.

The next step in Zuma's dismantling of the state and ensuring he kept himself out of jail and generated enough loot to fight after he had long left the corridors of power was to go after the South African Revenue Service (Sars). After removing Pravin Gordhan from Sars, Zuma found another vagabond, Oupa Magashula, who ultimately resigned in July 2013 for giving jobs to friends - exactly the type of people Zuma wanted.

None, however, was more pliant and complicit in Zuma's destruction of the state apparatus than Magashula's replacement, the controversial Tom Moyane. Moyane was willing to destroy this elite and trusted institution of government to protect Zuma's interests, and clearly his own.

As unlikely as it might seem now, Zuma also tried to put his cronies in the highest court in the land and he was likely extremely disappointed when his appointees turned out to be highly principled and beyond reproach.

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng was part of Zuma's appointees in 2009 into the Constitutional Court as one of the justices, and controversially, two years later, he was Zuma's appointee as the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court. There were, of course, more deserving candidates for Chief Justice, most notably among these was then-Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke. Unfortunately, Moseneke irked Zuma and the ANC by making public comments that would be interpreted as either against the party, or as him ensuring he would not be a lackey to the governing party or the president. Mogoeng was therefore Zuma's best and safe bet. Unfortunately, Zuma was very much mistaken. Mogeong would prove to be the last line of defence against Zuma's excesses and would save the republic.

After Zuma was done with all this dismantling, all these institutions became a shadow of what they once were when they used to attract the highest calibre of talent - serious people doing serious work.


It's July 2021, we needed the state to defend the people against an insurrection; the state was not there. There was no intelligence, no law enforcement, no governing party as the claimed leader of society; only bold looters and helpless citizens. The country was naked. It had been naked for a while, but it happened one day at a time, so no one could notice until we were tested.

The ANC was exposed as having lost the ear of the people. Government was proven to be an empty shell, emptied a long time ago. Civil society and churches were also missing in action, partly because of an ANC promise to do right by its citizens and put the people first - batho pele.

Yet, the irony of it all is that the very person who dismantled the state and ANC so that it was painfully exposed as inept and incapable to respond to nationwide attacks, would be the one who would punch the hole at the very ANC and state, just to prove that even after leaving state apparatus, he could still wield a lot of power for which he spent all his presidential years preparing.

The tragedy of the Zuma presidency will be felt for a long time.

Yonela Diko is the former spokesperson to the Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation. You can follow him on Twitter: @yonela_diko

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