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The Zumah Story
By Abena Osafo Boateng
The story of Jacob Zumah, Former President of South Africa is a very long one and would not fit into just one feature by a God-forsaken journalist like me.
Part of the story is that a South African court has sentenced him to 15 months imprisonment for contempt and some who claim to be human rights campaigners say that it is an affirmation of the principle of the equality of citizens before the law.
Another part of the story is simply that the man – Zumah was in many ways a he-goat. He married three women and that was not enough for him. He even slept with a friend’s daughter who had AIDS without any protection.
But the Zumah story had bright sides too. He had no or very little formal education. He was a self-educated political actor who rose to become President of a country which is said to be one of Africa’s three largest economies.
He rose from the depts of a black South African in the apartheid era to the topmost position in a country which gave birth to Nelson Mandela, Winnie Mandela, Joe Slovo, Steve Biko and Chris Hani. This cannot be an easy feat.
So why is such a distinguished fella being sent to jail?
The ruling of the court is that Jacob Zumah has to serve a prison term not because he has been proven guilty of corruption. He is being sent to prison because he refused a court order to appear before a judge investigating corruption allegations against him.
Mr. Zumah says that he refused to appear before the judge because he has proof of bias against him. In spite of Mr. Zumah’s insistence that the judge should recluse himself, he stubbornly refused to vacant his seat on the investigative body. Zumah and his supporters simply saw this as impunity on the part of the Judge.
To put all of these in historical context, we must not forget that South Africa has had many criminals as Heads of State. These criminals who instituted the system of apartheid ordered the death of blacks, coloured and even whites who disagreed with them. They tortured innocent South Africans. They destroyed people’s livelihoods and generally presided over a system which was worse than fascist rule.
In spite of all these, South Africans decided not to prosecute or convict them for all their crimes. This decision was meant to secure a peaceful transition to majority rule.
Today, the same system which forgave the criminals who run the apartheid system wants it’s pound of flesh. Jacob Zumah unlike Pik Botha will not be forgiven for his alleged infractions of the law, and this does not take cognizance of his contribution to the defeat of apartheid.
The Zumah story is still being told and whether he goes to jail or not will be an interesting addition.