The year the drama starring Jacob Zuma came to an end
We will remember Jacob Zuma as a man who put our constitutional democracy to the test, but in 2018 he lost the fight.
Jacob Zuma. Image: Lonwabo Tunyiswa/Twitter
This year will be remembered by many as one when the curtain came down on a stage drama in which a one-man show came to an abrupt end.
The main actor, Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma – whose middle name according ventriloquist Conrad Koch’s Chester Missing means he who stabs you while he is laughing – had been on the stage for close to 10 years. He had to hastily retreat in the ninth year because the audience could not wait to see the next show and its main actor, Cyril Ramaphosa.
The last two years of Zuma were filled with drama and intrigue. As he was at war with the law with his “machine gun” (umshini wami) in hand, the man helped many South Africans understand the law and importance of the constitution and peoples’ rights.
His trials and various instances when he lost appeals but forged ahead nevertheless to try his luck at the next level, became educational workshops to many South Africans about the functioning of the courts and the independence of the judiciary. Had it not been for Zuma, many judges wouldn’t be as extensively known as they had become in the last 10 years.
From the judge who found Zuma to have had a “generally corrupt relationship” with his former financial advisor, Schabir Shaik, to the one who acquitted him of rape as alleged by Khwezi, judicial officers attained fame (or notoriety?) for their work. Their judgments became the talk of the country and set the tone for what would happen with the man in the next years.
I have known the great impact of many judgments, but none were as damning for the former president as those given in the Constitutional Court and the High Court in Pretoria.
You could easily predict that when a matter was before those courts, Zuma and anyone connected with corruption and state capture, would go down. Those courts dealt with the facts – and it became clear our justices hate corruption.
The Constitutional Court taught us that nobody is above the law. While they avoided being activist justices, the judges under Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, brought the former president to his knees as he tried every trick in the book to use the law to his advantage.
The court stamped its authority on former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s findings on Nkandla that Zuma contemptuously ignored. The ConCourt reminded him and parliament, which supported him in undermining Madonsela, that the decisions of the public protector were binding and they better comply.
It highlighted that Zuma failed to uphold and defend the constitution and breached his oath of office by defying Madonsela’s remedial action, something that opened him up to impeachment.
This highest court in the land became the last hope for those who want to see justice and the constitution being respected.
Nearly all Zuma’s cases before the High Court in Pretoria went the wrong way for Zumaites: from Bathabile Dlamini, to Malusi Gigaba and Tom Moyane, all lost before the Tshwane judges.
Zuma’s drama extended beyond the court. He survived close to half-a-dozen motions of no confidence in parliament as he resisted his ousting. Despite mass mobilisation by civil society, the opposition and even Cosatu demanding he steps down, he just laughed at them.
We will remember Zuma as a man who put our constitutional democracy to the test, but he lost the fight.
As the man with nine lives finally bowed out on Valentine’s Day this year, we all felt relieved.