/ 31 August 2018

uBaba helps Buthelezi edit history

Jacob Zuma attended Shenge’s birthday party
Jacob Zuma attended Shenge’s birthday party, praising his one-time political enemy. (Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)


Durban’s alive with light. It’s a glorious, dazzling, soon-to-be spring morning, a bit too chilly to hit the ocean before work but we’re getting there. It’s a beautiful time of year. Every day the sun is up a little earlier, the morning air loses a little more of its bite, the city becomes slightly greener, that tiny bit more alive.

I’m up early to get my day squared away so there’s time to watch day two of former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor’s testimony at the Zondo commission into state capture.

Day one was tough. Mentor was jittery, as nervous as the Democratic Alliance’s Solly Msimanga on a Thursday morning. Mentor’s delivery was wobbly, her recall bad.

Then again, Mentor has been through hell since her decision to blow the whistle on the relationship between the Gupta family and former president Jacob Zuma and his family. Mentor didn’t only turn down the job offer from the Guptas, she tried to do something about it and has been paying the price ever since.

Anybody would be wobbly if they’d been through the kind of harassment, rejection and ridicule Mentor has experienced.

Mentor’s watched the ANC, her comrades, turn against her for doing the right thing. She’s felt the bite of the state’s resources being deployed against her, that feeling of dread that comes with realising you’re on your own and badly exposed and that the people you’ve believed in are either bent or don’t care.

With all that, Mentor has still kept going, made a huge contribution to this commission even taking place.


We’re only in the second week of at least two years of the commission sitting and I’m already hooked. I’ve tried not to watch — I’m not covering the commission and I have work to do — but I’ve found it impossible not to be glued to the screen.

It hasn’t been pleasant viewing. Far from it. This is horrific, nauseating.

The picture being painted by Mentor — for all of her all-over-the-place delivery and dodgy memory — and former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas is sickening.

It’s early days still but it’s already abundantly clear that the Gupta family owned South Africa — and the government purse — courtesy of their relationship with former president Jacob Zuma. Owned the governing party too. Turned our fiscus into a slush fund for themselves, the Zuma family and their bras. The Guptas treated us like a nation of punkahwallahs, fit only to facilitate their comfort and fan their flanks, thanks to their ownership of Zuma, the family’s wallah-in-chief, and his lackeys in Cabinet, the security establishment and the state-owned enterprises.

I wonder what Atul and Rajesh called Zuma when he wasn’t within hearing distance.

I wonder whether Zuma has watched any of the proceedings yet.

I know he didn’t on Monday. uBaba, as the faithful in the kingdom still call Zuma, was at Inkatha Freedom Party president Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s 90th birthday party in Ulundi on Monday.

I didn’t make it to the party to hear Zuma singing the praises of Shenge, as Buthelezi’s followers reverently refer to him, for his heroism and his contribution to the struggle for liberation.

I didn’t get an invitation. Not that one was expected. Shenge seems to prefer angry letters to the editor or complaints to the press ombud to sending me party invites but it’s cool with me. Better than being jammed up against the Ulundi stadium wall by Siegfried Bhengu and his bras, I guess. He threatened to kill me in the late 1980s for writing nasty things about his boss.

Buthelezi must have loved Zuma’s gushing speech. Revelled in every word. Glowed at Nxamalala’s fawning address.

Shenge doesn’t just love ego massages. There’s more at play here.

Buthelezi is desperate for history to be rewritten to portray him in a more favourable light. Shenge wants to redact his role in the violence in the 1980s and the 1990s, his relationship with the National Party and his acceptance of the Bantustan system. Buthelezi wants history to whitewash the blood that’s on his hands and those of his party, to place them on the side of the oppressed, rather than where they really were.

It’s understandable. The man just turned 90.

It seems a little unusual, though, for a former president of the ANC to be punting this line, particularly ahead of a crucial election.

Zuma was here, at least during the 1990s. Zuma knows what happened. Unless Zuma views unleashing the hit squads on members and supporters of the ANC and the United Democratic Front, displacing thousands of people, as a contribution to the struggle.

Perhaps. Perhaps I view uBaba through jaundiced eyes for making me an involuntary chaiwallah.

Perhaps one shouldn’t be all that surprised by Zuma’s praise for Buthelezi as a hero of the liberation struggle, though. Part of uBaba’s strategy to con his way into the presidency was to tell every audience precisely what they wanted to hear, right when they wanted to hear it most.

Why should he change now?