Jacob Zuma and the men in robes: When a good lawyer is worth his weight in gold

It is now clearer than ever before that Zuma won’t be going down without a fight, in any situation. And, he has had some serious legal muscle behind him.


While there isn’t a lot of publicly available information about Inkosi Matomela Zuma - the founding father of the Zuma Clan - his close relationship with King Shaka features strongly in the little that there is. He was one of the renowned conqueror’s allies and it was as a result of this allegiance to the monarch, it is said, that his clan was able to thrive and prosper. He sounds like someone who understood the importance of having the right people in your corner. Not unlike his great grandson, our former president Jacob Zuma. Zuma has been compared to a…

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While there isn’t a lot of publicly available information about Inkosi Matomela Zuma – the founding father of the Zuma Clan – his close relationship with King Shaka features strongly in the little that there is.

He was one of the renowned conqueror’s allies and it was as a result of this allegiance to the monarch, it is said, that his clan was able to thrive and prosper.

He sounds like someone who understood the importance of having the right people in your corner. Not unlike his great grandson, our former president Jacob Zuma.

Zuma has been compared to a cat with nine lives many times before. He has an unrivalled ability to squeeze himself out of even the tightest legal pinch.

READ MORE: We’ll oppose any attempt to arrest Zuma, says MKMVA following Nkandla meeting

But as Emily Dickinson said: “Luck is not chance – It’s toil – Fortune’s expensive smile is earned.”

Only, in this case, the toiling has largely fallen to the former president’s lawyers.

Zuma’s history of attorneys and advocates, reads like a Who’s Who of the country’s legal fraternity.

The men in robes

His long-time team of choice was Michael Hulley and Kemp J Kemp SC, who got him acquitted at his 2006 rape trial and saw Zuma through more than a decade of the spy tapes drama.

Kemp, who died of Covid-19 recently, was a legal legend in South Africa – known for his formidable skills at the bar as well as the contribution he had made to the industry as a professor of law at the University of Zululand in the 1980s, during which time he lectured the likes of Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.

Zuma was even represented by top-drawer international advocate Jeremy Gauntlett SC at one stage, when the Nkandla matter was before the Constitutional Court.

Gauntlett has chambers in Cape Town‚ Johannesburg and Brick Court in London and was in 2017 also elevated to the ranks of Queen’s Counsel (QC) in the United Kingdom.

In 2018, the former president parted ways with Hulley and Kemp and hired a new high-profile legal team – with Daniel Mantsha and Muzi Sikhakhane SC as the headline acts – in their place.

He has since dropped Mantsha and now has the well-known Eric Mabuza – who’s also represented the likes of Old Mutual’s former chief executive Peter Moyo and the Public Protector’s former Chief of Operations, Basani Baloyi – as his attorney.

READ MORE: Zuma pocketed spy money, spent millions on positive media spin, Zondo hears

But he’s hung onto Sikhakhane. And wisely so.

Active in the ANC underground from the age of 18 and having enjoyed close relationships with human rights heavyweights former chief justice Pius Langa and struggle lawyer Victoria Mxenge, Sikhakhane is not only a legal force to be reckoned with; he comes with serious struggle credentials too.

And this makes him the perfect relay for Zuma’s narrative that he’s the victim of political persecution, just like he was – as he recently pointed out in a statement – under apartheid.

Whether or not he will ever actually be made to account for any alleged transgressions, remains to be seen.

But it’s now clearer than ever before that Zuma won’t be going down without a fight. And an almighty fight at that.

Because as Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “The good lawyer is not the man who has an eye to every side and angle of contingency, and qualifies all his qualifications, but who throws himself on your part so heartily, that he can get you out of a scrape.”

And that’s a quality those who represent the former president, have always had.

READ NEXT: Zuma’s abuse of system ‘no surprise’

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