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“Comrades, I want to address aspects about Jacob Zuma” – an excerpt from Ronnie Kasrils’s A Simple Man

A Simple ManRonnie Kasrils’s insights into Jacob Zuma in A Simple Man, both shocking and revelatory, are vividly illuminated through this story, from their shared history in the underground to Kasrils’s time as minister of intelligence and his views on South Africa now. Our understanding of Zuma the struggle hero, now perceived as having sold his soul to the devil, becomes clearer through this narrative.

This fast-paced, thriller-style memoir outlines the tumultuous years that saw Mbeki’s overthrow and replacement by Zuma, Nkandlagate, the growing militarisation of the police and the Marikana Massacre, the outrageous appointment of flunkies to high office, the ‘state capture’ report and his relationship with the Guptas. We relive the Schabir Shaik corruption trial, Kasrils’s relationship with Fezeka Kuzwayo (Khwezi), Zuma’s rape trial accuser, the email and spy tapes saga, conspiracy and betrayal.

‘Yes, comrade President, I think Russia will stand by Iran,’ I was mouthing, though my thoughts were mesmerised by the swinging pendulum. The fifteen-minute chime. The clock needed oiling. A big gulp of the amber fluid. Aziz was rattling on. Mbeki was thoughtful. The man was oblivious to the passing of time … nine interminable minutes more and his presidency would be over.

‘Uncle Ronnie, Jacob Zuma has raped me,’ was the call I received on my mobile phone. The woman added, ‘This is Fezeka.’ My body geared to the shock as though someone was pointing a gun at me: blood ran cold, neck hairs prickled, throat turned dry, mind strove to focus.

While Kasrils explains the enigmatic contradictions of Jacob Zuma, he also explains that corruption and the abuse of power does not begin with Zuma. His story points to the compromised negotiations of the 1990s, which he refers to as a ‘Faustian Pact’. This is a story told from the inside, and after reading it, you will understand not only the many machinations of power, but also how one man’s struggle for the truth can have such an impact on the political outcomes of the nation.

Ronnie Kasrils is author of the best-selling memoir Armed and Dangerous, which has been translated into German, Russian and Spanish and the Alan Paton Award-winning The Unlikely Secret Agent, which has been translated into French. A commander in Umkhonto weSizwe from its inception in 1961 until 1990, he served in government from 1994 to his resignation as minister for intelligence in 2008. He describes himself as a social activist and lives in Johannesburg.

The following extract was published by The Daily Maverick on nine November:

We had gathered at Party headquarters in downtown Johannesburg for a regular executive committee meeting but since insufficient members had turned up the gathering was postponed. While we chatted over coffee, I suggested that instead of dispersing, we discuss the situation that had arisen over Mbeki’s recent dismissal of Zuma as the country’s deputy president on 14 June 2005.

The disgraced Zuma, who had never disagreed with Mbeki’s policies, raised the spectre of a conspiracy against him hatched by “counter-revolutionaries”, and his supporters seized that idea with alacrity. Those in the SACP and Cosatu opposed Mbeki on ideological grounds, and although some had personal reasons too, I did not lump them into the same group as those I characterise as crony capitalists. The fact that the SACP supported Zuma spoke volumes about the extent to which he had succeeded in exploiting their antagonisms to Mbeki and their belief that he was a suitable man for the left and for the country. The situation was ugly and fraught with unforeseen consequences.

I studied the group of battle-hardened comrades with whom I had worked for several years to change South Africa and the world. Foremost among them were the Party general secretary, the feisty Blade Nzimande; the chairperson, Gwede Mantashe, a weather-beaten former mineworkers’ leader who did not mince his words; and the gently spoken poet and ideologue, Jeremy Cronin, whom I had once trained in London for underground work. As I was not just a comrade, the old “ANC Khumalo” and MK veteran, but an Mbeki appointee and the intelligence minister at that, I could feel sure that despite obvious respect they showed me, there was an element of doubt about my motives.

“Comrades, let’s be perfectly open with one another,” I requested. “I’m going to open my chest, and although this discussion should be confidential, if what I say gets to Zuma, I couldn’t care less.”

I had eyeballed the secretary of the Young Communist League (YCL), Buti Manamela, an up-and-coming youth leader who was pro-Zuma, and wondered just how far he would be swallowed by personal ambition. The Cosatu president, the heavily bearded Willie Madisha, shuffled perceptibly and looked down. I guessed he was unhappy with the growing adulation of Zuma and was in the process of falling out with Blade, who had a tight grip on the party.

“Comrades,” I continued, “I want to address aspects about Jacob Zuma, such as tribalism; the question of morality; the fact that he is no working-class hero; and the issue of conspiracy and security.”

Blade nodded with puckered mouth, beckoning me to proceed. Outside, the city hummed under a bright winter sky. Through our upper-floor windows we had a commanding view of downtown Johannesburg’s skyline: skyscrapers, mining houses and financial centres long past their glory days. The capitalist values that once had their fountainhead in the City of Gold had taken flight to the new capital of Mammon – the gleaming towers of Sandton City on Johannesburg’s northern edge. I wondered whether we communists could adjust to the times.

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