Jacob Zuma’s jailing shows up South African government’s failures after end of apartheid
Jacob Zuma’s jailing shows up South African government’s failures after end of apartheid

Forty minutes before midnight on 7 July, Jacob Zuma’s motorcade sped out of his mansion to hand himself into custody. It is the latest step downwards for the former South African president.

Judges jailed Zuma for fifteen months the previous week for his failure to show up to an inquiry into “state capture”—corrupt dealings between business and the government. He used legal manoeuvres to postpone his arrest. But he eventually accepted the inevitable.

Zuma had numerous links with the superrich Gupta family. A string of witnesses say the Guptas, who have now fled South Africa, had influence over lucrative state contracts and appointments. The corruption led to business and political rivals shot down in a furious scramble for wealth and power.

In a separate legal matter, Zuma pleaded not guilty last month in a corruption trial involving a A$5.5 billion arms deal from the 1990s. He was also acquitted of raping a family friend in 2006.

Zuma maintains that his age, “health condition” and the COVID-19 pandemic would translate into a “death sentence” should he be imprisoned. And he has denounced his jailing as a similar move to the days of the racist apartheid system.

Ronnie Kasrils, former freedom fighter and African National Congress (ANC) cabinet minister, says the comparison is outrageous. He told Socialist Worker:

“There is nothing his case has in common with apartheid-era punishment. It’s utter nonsense. The jailing is a victory for democracy. His arch supporters are as fraudulent as he is. I refer to the ANC faction that has been part of all the rotten corruption associated with state capture—selling the country to the devil.

“Some of the faction will continue to roar like empty vessels. but their power has been short-lived and they have in my view never had the mass support they have laid claim to.”

Zuma was elected president in 2009 having cultivated a “people’s leader” image. This was in contrast to his predecessor Thabo Mbeki, who had delivered free market reforms and denied the ravages of Aids. But Zuma kept to the same pro-corporate road—and expected a fat payoff in return.

His caring image was soon punctured by multiple corruption claims and the reality that most black South Africans still faced low wages or unemployment—and poverty.

Then came a scandal surrounding the upgrading of his homestead in the rural area of Nkandla. Zuma used state funds to build a palatial residence complete with cattle enclosure, amphitheatre, swimming pool and visitor centre.

“He is eating when we are hungry”, one protester outside the buildings said, capturing the public anger over the corruption.

Zuma was forced to resign as president in 2018. It took a huge struggle, and he went as the parliament was set to debate a motion of no confidence in him. His supporters have battled away inside the governing ANC, but their power has gradually ebbed away.

An ANC national executive meeting last week stated, “The interests of an individual cannot take precedence over or jeopardise the interests of our democracy or of the nation”. The statement did not mention Zuma by name, but it was clear who was being referred to.

Zuma’s journey from liberation hero to a cell reflects much wider processes and the weakness of the ANC’s politics. The end of apartheid in 1994 was a huge victory. But economic power in South Africa remained firmly in the hands of multinationals, white bosses and a thin layer of very rich black people.

Some leading ANC members, such as present president Cyril Ramaphosa, made huge fortunes in private business. Others, excluded from the highest ranks of the corporations, used the state to fund their luxury lives.

Zuma’s thefts never bothered big business. It was only when he started to destabilise the economy that they suddenly discovered he was a plunderer on an extraordinary scale.

Jailing Zuma will make no difference unless there is far more fundamental change.

Irvin Jim, the general secretary of the Numsa metalworkers’ union, has rightly pointed out that some of Zuma’s critics are themselves quite prepared to ram through privatisation.

He denounced “right wing holy of holies who sleep with white monopoly capital and are taken care of by sitting on boards of companies”.

“They do get under my skin when they go on about defending the rule of law”, he said.

Ronnie said, “In the final analysis we are witness to the lack of the alternative socialist system we strive for. South Africa is by no means unique in this mess.

“How I bemoan the opportunities we lost back in the early 1990s to create a credible political and economic system.”


First published at SocialistWorker.co.uk.

Read more
Passing of Archbishop Tutu
Tom Bramble

Desmond Tutu’s life was one of struggle against injustice. The politicians who line up to laud him today are not fit to wipe his feet.

Sudan resisting a coup
Emma Dynes

“A sense of relief” is how Sudanese political activist Muzan Alneel, speaking via Zoom from the capital, Khartoum, describes the mood on the streets of Sudan in the first hours of the coup on 25 October. “I remember seeing people come into the street singing, like they’re singing against the coup and they’re singing against [coup leader General] Burhan, but they’re singing”, she says.

South African government response to COVID-19 crisis: profits matter more than workers’ lives
South African government response to COVID-19 crisis: profits matter more than workers’ lives
Ashley Fataar

The South African working class is being ravaged. Government figures record thousands of infections and hundreds of deaths per day from COVID-19. In late March, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a national lockdown to contain the virus. But as restrictions were eased on 1 May and again on 1 June, the case numbers began to soar. At almost 600,000 cases, the country now has the fifth-highest number of recorded infections in the world.

The US is divided, but its elites are united against China
The US is divided, but its elites are united against China
Eleanor Morley

Tensions between the United States and China are escalating rapidly. The ongoing rift between the world’s two largest powers has intensified during the COVID-19 crisis, as both countries jostle for position in a rapidly changing political climate. There is a growing consensus among the US ruling elite for a hardline approach to China’s rapid rise. A new White House report outlining a more aggressive stance, which may prove to be the most significant foreign policy document since 9/11, has been co-signed by every relevant federal department.

The economic crash is already ravaging Africa
Ben Hillier

Sub-Saharan Africa is facing its greatest crisis in generations. The continent thus far has been less affected by the pandemic than other parts of the world. But the impact of the global economic crisis is already enormous.

Sudanese revolution continues despite ‘compromise’
Simone White

Towns and cities across Sudan were flooded on 30 June with protesters responding to the call for a “millions march”. It was the largest pro-democracy rally since the 3 June massacre in which the notorious Rapid Support Forces – formerly a militia called the Janjaweed, created to wage a genocidal war in Darfur – crushed a months-long sit-in outside the Sudanese military headquarters in the capital, Khartoum.