Heads of State get into all kinds of trouble, from romantic to fiscal, and many then come toppling down. Jacob Zuma of South Africa is different.
Nearly seven years have past since then as deputy president Zuma replaced an equally quixotic president, Thabo Mbeki. Mbeki followed Mandela and all three were close confidants and collaborators in the anti-apartheid struggle.
Mbeki’s quirks included a belief he tried to make into public policy that the aids virus could be washed easily away with a hot enough shower. Combined with his nambypamby leadership that allowed his underlings like Zuma to constantly thwart him, he finally infected national policy and the ANC showed him the door.
Standing in the wings was Zuma. Profoundly charismatic, it’s now evident he possesses little else.
Zuma strolled into office with multiple wives and a lifestyle flaunting the rich and famous, more than once publicly saying so.
If Mbeki was a mouse, Zuma is a dumb-ass pitbull.
But it just doesn’t seem to matter.
Zuma’s list of scandals will become his legacy, and they include some truly awful stuff like the police massacre at the Marikana mine, his grandiose payment of $2 billion cash to help bailout Greece when his own country was heading into recession, his son’s Playboy antics with yachts and Porsches including killing a taxi cab passenger that he ran into, among many others.
The single one of many that won’t go away I think is about ready to go away.
Zuma built himself not just a mansion, but a resort. Some call it a small city.
I wrote about Nkandla about a year ago when even normally filthy loyal ANC youngsters were getting upset. All told Zuma has spent $24 million on this place, which you can multiply at least 5-10 times for a valid comparison with a similar public use of funds by an American president for personal gain.
You can’t hide fractions of billions of dollars easily, so Zuma didn’t try. His pitiful defense was something like calling it a necessary leadership retreat, a sort of Camp David if you will, although not even the South African military had access to it.
It’s absolutely amazing how ANC brass dismiss these things as “distractions” or “insignificant” or even worse, as press contrivances.
In fact that was Zuma’s first defense when the press went crazy reporting on the details of Nkandla. He’s pushed through Parliament a number of laws restricting press freedom, although the toughest haven’t made it through.
Zuma and his party, the ANC, are still subject to real democratic votes, and you can sit back from afar and muse that well, the South Africans got what they voted for, so what? That might be fine when talking about multiple wives and Playboy lifestyles.
But when basic freedoms like the press start being swept away, then dismissing excesses as personal or flamboyant just won’t work.
And for a while, Zuma seemed cooked.
The ANC rules almost everything but The Cape in South Africa, and finally ANC rulers agreed to allow a public inquiry. Guess what? The prosecutor condemned Zuma and gave him two weeks to repay the cost of Nkandla.
The ANC responded like a pitbull. The prosecutor’s report was leaked earlier than its official publication (which wasn’t that early) and that set the ANC on a rampage.
But the diversion didn’t work, and a few days ago the ANC agreed to a Parliamentary inquiry.
Meanwhile, Zuma is ignoring the public prosecutor and instead, said he will take his orders for repayment from the national chief of police.
One gets the distinct impression that the Chief has enjoyed foie gras at Nkandla.
If Zuma outlives this one, and I think he may, there is absolutely nothing he won’t be able to do, next.