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Editorial: Zuma gangs up on democracy

The president of the country consorting with known gang bosses? And doing so not to redirect them down the paths of righteousness, but to enlist their support in winning back the Western Cape from the Democratic Alliance before the 2011 local elections?

Nothing could more graphically highlight the ANC’s moral slippage under Jacob Zuma, and the ANC’s frantic desire to extend single-party rule to every corner of South Africa, than this extraordinary claim.

Allegedly present at the meeting at Zuma’s official Cape Town residence were such paragons as Quinton “Mr Big” Marinus and Igshaan Davids, said to be the leader of Cape Town’s largest street gang, the Americans.

The man said to have brought the parties together was Lloyd Hill, another underground figure from Durban with whom the Zuma family is understood to have a long association.

It might be argued that the gangsters infiltrated, or were mistakenly included, in what was intended as a presidential encounter with prominent representatives of the coloured community. Also in attendance were Griqua royalty and religious leaders.

But can Zuma really have been unaware of who he was dealing with and their unsavoury reputations? If so, either he and/or his advisers have lost contact with the country that he and his party supposedly preside over.

A quick internet search makes it clear that his guests that day have all repeatedly been at the centre of controversy. Marinus, described in media reports as the kingpin of South Africa’s largest crime syndicate, has appeared in court on multiple charges of murder, robbery, fraud and abalone poaching – of which he was later acquitted.

He was recently sequestrated by the revenue service for failing to pay R3.2-million in taxes and lost his luxury pad in Cape Town’s upmarket Plattekloof.

Davids was convicted of five crimes between 1989 and 2014, including culpable homicide, for which he received a seven-year jail sentence.

As our lead story this week reports, Hill has also had serious brushes with the law, including being arrested on a murder charge that was later dropped after a potential state witness was strangled in prison.

Apart from claims that the meeting discussed ways in which the gangsters could assist in the ANC’s Western Cape election campaign ¬– a party-specific issue that has no bearing on the welfare of the coloured community or the country at large – Marinus is said to have raised his difficulties with the South African Revenue Service.

One might expect South Africa’s first citizen to stamp on any discussion of this matter – after all, the revenue service is supposed to be an independent agency. Instead, Zuma allegedly offered to “look into” it.

There are also suggestions that “business opportunities” were offered for electoral assistance and that the Gupta family may have been involved. The Guptas’ spokesperson, Gary Naidoo, failed to answer questions this week.

It appears that Zuma’s son, Duduzane, was aware that the encounter might not be universally applauded if it leaked out – when the gangster’s convoy arrived at the gates of the presidential residence, he is said to have instructed the security guards not to sign in the visitors. Neither he nor his father would comment, with the president’s office dismissing the allegations as “gossip”.

At issue is both Zuma’s apparent willingness to bend the rules, visible in many other contexts, and the ANC’s impotent outrage over the DA’s majority support among the Western Cape’s coloured voters.

There have been repeated DA claims of dirty-tricks campaigns in the province, including the use of underworld connections. As next year’s local elections approach, watch this space …

*This comment originally appeared as an editorial in the Mail & Guardian.

* Got a tip-off for us about this story? Click here.

The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See for our stories, activities and funding sources.

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Drew Forrest
Drew Forrest has been working as a journalist for 40 years, with stints at Business Day, Mail & Guardian, Times of Swaziland and the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism. He has been a deputy editor, political editor, business editor and labour editor, among other positions. Author of a book on cricket, The Pacemen (Pan Macmillan 2013), he has also edited several non-fiction books. He is the managing partner (editorial) of IJ Hub, a regional training offshoot of amaBhungane.

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