uBaba and the art of  ‘goodbye




It’s just before midday.

Under normal circumstances, I would have been part of the media horde that’s been camped at the high court in Pietermaritzburg since not long after daybreak, waiting for former president Jacob Zuma to finally — perhaps — get his long-awaited day in court.

A significant part of my life (and Nxamalala’s for that matter)has been consumed by this case. Since 2005, in fact. I would normally have coughed up R60 for a taxi from the Leopold Street rank to Market Square and taken my seat in the gallery behind uBaba — even if I did know the case would probably be adjourned pending an application for leave to appeal against the dismissal of his bid for a permanent stay of prosecution.

I was there when it all began —when uBaba’s former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, got sentenced in the high court to 15 years in jail byJudge Hilary Squires for the payments he made to Zuma while he was KwaZulu-Natal’s economic affairs MEC.

Squires confiscated my cellphone after it went off, courtesy of my man Ghengis inquiring as to my availability for a two-day bender, one Friday morning during the case. Squires did give it back at the end of the day’s proceedings, so I can’t complain —even if Ghengie did start the festivities without me.

I was also there when Zuma made his appearances on fraud and corruption charges over the payments from Shaik and French arms dealer Thales. I’ve been in and out of the courts with uBaba ever since.

The old man also kept me busy during his term and a bit in the presidency, come to think of it. uBaba dragged me to Polokwane, Mangaung, Mozambique, Angola, even Ogies (I’m not lying, but Ogies is a story for another day). So, it would have made sense for me to be there today, even if the case was definitely going to be adjourned.

I’m not in ’Maritzburg.

Recent developments mean my focus is on national politics and not the goings on in the Kingdom. uBaba’s no longer my problem.

This week I’m on the fight in the Democratic Alliance, the governing party’s attempts to sort out its membership system and the fight for supremacy in the Food and Allied Workers Union.

Fair enough.

It’s time to move on.

The ANC appears to have done so, even in KwaZulu-Natal, if the tiny crowd that eventually turned up by the time Zuma made it outside the court to address them is anything to go by. The ANC provincial executive sent a sole representative to save face for the old man. That was kind of them,but that was about it.

Bishop Vusi Dube was there, as always, but the leadership, and the masses, weren’t. Even Zuma’s allies like former North West premier Supra Mahumapelo and ANC secretary general Ace Magashule didn’t make it to court this time. I guess going back to Parliament and the ANC task team running the party in the province has dampened Supra’s taste for the chair next to Zuma on the sound truck set up across from the court.

I wonder what happened with Ace?

Perhaps he was busy fixing the membership system, or something like that.


As compelling as uBaba’s court appearance is, it’s no longer national politics. This is just a cat who happened to run — and ruin — the country, appearing in court for things he did before his time as president; a criminal accused running down the clock to try to make sure he never actually stands trial, because there’s nothing else he can really do.

In his position I’d do exactly the same.Lodge appeals to the Supreme Court of Appeal, then the Constitutional Court. Kill off another year and a half that way.After that, when things go back to court, cry poverty and apply for legal aid. Get another 18 months’ adjournment while the new legal team familiarises itself with the paperwork. Then start with the applications for recusal of judges, prosecutors, interpreters.

Yes, Zuma’s going to be in and out of the courts for the next few years, both for this case and for others that are likely to end up in court after the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture wraps up its work. But politically, the game is over.

Despite this, I’ve spent the morning glued to the television screen, waiting for Zuma’s appearance to start.

I’ve tried everything to keep my mind off Zuma and on the jobs at hand. I’ve failed. After the fifth insertion of the word Zuma into my trade union story I give up, accept the reality and push the laptop aside. I’ll have to catch up later. For now it’s me and Nxamalala.

uBaba is yesterday’s man, but I’m still hooked.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper

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