Let’s get one thing straight: former president Jacob Zuma has money, a lot of money.
The looting spree under his tenure as the president of the Republic was so surgical it defied all superlatives. There is no debate that his friends, the Guptas and their proxies, were beneficiaries of public money, which was dispersed with unprecedented largesse by Zuma’s administration.
It is inconceivable that none of those billions went to Zuma. He has always had a benefactor. Before the Guptas, businessmen Schabir Shaik and Roy Moodley chipped in their ill-gotten gains to help Zuma. Even Nelson Mandela gave debt-ridden Zuma a bail-out of more than R1-million to get his house in order.
Former Umkhonto weSizwe commander Stanley Manong writes in his powerful memoir, If We Must Die, that, as young activists, he and his friend skipped the country to join the ANC underground. They took all their savings from their income as teachers and crossed into Mozambique. After a long, arduous journey, they were thrilled to meet the courageous anti-apartheid comrade, Zuma. He asked them to hand in any money they had and he, in his infinite kindness, would exchange it into local currency and return it to them. That was the last they saw of their money — years of savings.
The wily Zuma knows how to find money.
So are we to believe that the man so used to living off other people’s sweat has run out of money and cannot afford to pay his legal fees? That is the speculation after his lawyers withdrew barely a month before the start of his much-awaited corruption trial. Zuma faces 16 charges of fraud, corruption, racketeering and money-laundering stemming from South Africa’s arms acquisition programme in the late 1990s.
It has been 16 years of dodging the courts and using every Machiavellian manoeuvre his giggly head could think of. It didn’t matter how much these legal adventures cost because he wasn’t paying. We were.
Last week the appeal court applied brakes on his spending spree and ordered him to repay the state an estimated R25-million spent on this protracted saga.
We know that Zuma was taken to court for maintenance by at least one ex-wife. Another ex-wife also said he does not support their underage children. His late wife, Kate Mantsho, left a scathing suicide note wherein she implores him to fulfil his financial responsibilities as a father. This is a man who just does not know how to live on his own resources and take care of his responsibilities. It is a stunning display of entitlement and moral depravity. Zuma has the money but he probably doesn’t know how to move it around.
Does this mean the withdrawal of his lawyers would cause a delay in the trial? That would suit him just fine, wouldn’t it?