If you want to understand why the country is in such crisis, look no further than the President. These articles throw light on the man and his past.
Jacob Zuma in exile: three unexplored issues
In light of the huge seriousness of current issues concerning Zuma and the African National Congress, of which he is president, Gordin’s book must be accounted a serious fall in quality in comparison with the standard set by two major biographies published only the year before, each of living political leaders drawn like Zuma from the ANC and the South African Communist Party: the biography of Mac Maharaj by Professor Padraig O’Malley (Shades of Difference: Mac Maharaj and the Struggle for South Africa, Viking, New York, 2007) and the biography of Thabo Mbeki by Mark Gevisser (Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred, Jonathan Ball, Johannesburg, 2007).
Published only five months before the April elections, this fall in quality in Gordin’s book is a disservice to the people of South Africa, who need above all: clarity.
This review attempts to draw attention to three related matters of great importance concerning Jacob Zuma. All three points arise from material already in the public domain, much of it already canvassed in the biographies by O’Malley and Gevisser. By comparison, Gordin’s failure to do any adequate research into these matters, in the light of South Africa’s urgent need for clarity, must be accounted a serious failure of scholarship, and even of journalism.
I will not rake over the coals on two further matters that do get attention from Gordin, although here too, not really adequately, and in which Gordin does not bring fresh material to light. These are the state of Zuma’s personal sexual life, as revealed in his trial for rape in 2006, of which he was acquitted, and the state of his financial affairs, the subject of ongoing criminal charges. There are other issues that should also have been more adequately investigated and discussed, but I will leave these aside.
1. The Securocrat
In an article on Politicsweb last week, “Jacob Zuma, iMbokodo and the death of Thami Zulu” (see here), I argued that a proper inquiry into the murder in Lusaka, Zambia, in November 1989 of an Umkhonto weSizwe commander Thami Zulu (real name, Muziwakhe Ngwenya) would lead to “an indictment upon the Sachs commission [appointed by the ANC to inquire into the murder, but which failed to ask “whodunnit?”], the ANC as the organisation that appointed it, the legal structure of the South African state in which the commissioners (including Sachs) have subsequently held various posts, and the senior office-bearer responsible for counter-intelligence in the ANC at the time of Thami Zulu’s murder, Jacob Zuma”.
Gordin does discuss this matter, and does bring one fresh piece of information to light: a statement from “Someone who at the time worked very closely with Zuma in counter-intelligence, and prefers to remain anonymous.” (p.38) He also accurately states that “Zuma was implicated” in the death of Thami Zulu “because he was then head of counter-intelligence.” (p.36) For a fuller discussion, readers should consult my earlier article.
Zuma has never, to my knowledge, accounted publicly in any way for his role – whatever that might have been – in the arrest, imprisonment, interrogation, release and subsequent murder by poisoning while in close confinement of Thami Zulu. He declined to make himself available in Lusaka over 18 days to Zulu’s father, Mr Philemon Ngwenya, a respected Soweto headmaster, prior to Zulu’s being poisoned, and as far as I am aware he made no contribution to the hearing into the matter in 1996 by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to which Mr and Mrs Ngwenya gave moving and searching testimony.
Serious attention was needed from a biographer into the conduct of Mr Zuma’s role as head of counter-intelligence in the ANC in exile in the late 1980s, and for about three years after his return to South Africa in 1990. In his informative study of both the apartheid state and ANC intelligence services, James Sanders notes that “Jacob Zuma continued as head of the DIS Intelligence section until 1993, when Patrick ‘Terror’ Lekota was appointed”. (Apartheid’s Friends: The Rise and Fall of South Africa’s Secret Service, John Murray, London , 2006. p.300) This refers to Zuma’s position as head of counter-intelligence in the ANC’s Department of Intelligence and Security, known – and feared – among the troops as iMbokodo (the grindstone).
Sanders notes that following the mutinies in Umkhonto in Angola in 1984 – which arose largely as a protest against the brutal practices of iMbokodo – its most notorious chief up to that time, Mzwandile Piliso, was “retired in 1986 and the intelligence department was administered by an ‘interim directorate’ which included Alfred Nzo, Joe Nhlanhla, Jacob Zuma and Sizakele Sigxashe”. (p.290) Zuma’s tenure as ANC securocrat appears to have covered the seven years from 1986 to 1993, the transition period from apartheid to post-apartheid state.
For a former spy-chief to become president of a country is no small matter. In the apartheid period in South Africa, an equivalent would have been the ascent of a Major-General Hendrik van den Bergh to Presidency of the state. In Russia, it would recall the transition of the KGB director, Yuri Andropov, to general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party in 1982. In post-Soviet Russia, it would suggest the ascendancy of President Vladimir Putin. Gordin’s attention to these crucial matters is minimal and cursory. His negligence can be seen from the fact that both in the text of his book (p.37) and in the Index, the name of Zuma’s colleague and indeed superior at the head of iMbokodo over this period, Joe Nhlanhla – later Deputy Director of the unified South African state intelligence department, and subsequently Minister of Intelligence under President Thabo Mbeki – is incorrectly spelled as “Nhlanha”.
It should be noted that Mr Zuma carried, and continues to carry, formal responsibility as the highest-ranking officer for actions taken by his department at that time.
As I argued in my article last week, there is no evidence that iMbokodo made any effort to identify who could have administered the poison to Thami Zulu, any more than did the Sachs Commission, even though this was a simple case for investigation by even the most incompetent police force. Zulu was murdered in Lusaka only five days after his release from an iMbokodo prison. He was very weak, desperately ill, already dying of Aids. In these five days there is no evidence that he ever left the house in which he was poisoned. Every visitor was able to be identified. The poison was administered in beer provided to Zulu by one or more of these visitors. Because the poison is excreted from the body, a forensic scientist in London concluded that it must have been administered to Zulu “within a day or at most two days prior to his death” (quoted in my article which discusses this crime, “The dilemma of Albie Sachs: ANC constitutionalism and the death of Thami Zulu”, Searchlight South Africa No.11, October 1993, p.46 see here). This would suggest that there has been a conspiracy of silence at the highest level in the ANC on this matter.
2. “Soviet graduate”
In his study ANC: A View from Moscow (Mayibuye Books, University of the Western Cape, Bellville, 1999), the former member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and former senior Soviet state and party liaison officer with the ANC and the SACP, Dr Vladimir Shubin, writes of Jacob Zuma and Joe Nhlanhla that “both comrades were Soviet graduates and understood Russian perfectly.” Both of them, writes Shubin, were “heavily involved in sensitive ANC matters.” (p.367) [See Shubin’s correction on this point here – Ed]
Gordin makes no reference to this remark, which Dr Shubin situates in relation to a visit to Moscow of both men in March 1990 – that is, four months after the death of Thami Zulu in Lusaka, when both men were in command of ANC security services.
What exactly does this statement mean, coming from the top Soviet official then responsible for South African affairs? Firstly, it must mean that both Zuma and Nhlanhla could only have spent a considerable amount of time in the Soviet Union, in order to have learned to understand Russian “perfectly”. Secondly, it proposes the question: in exactly what form of study had these two Securocrats “graduated” in the Soviet Union, if it was not study in their special craft, for which they had been placed at the very pinnacle by the ANC and the SACP? Generally, East Germany – the former German Democratic Republic – was the principal training area in the Soviet bloc for members of iMbokodo, where their tutors were the Stasi secret police force.
Intensive further research in Germany in the files of the Stasi is needed to uncover what transpired in these training programmes. Dr Shubin’s remark suggests, however, that Zuma and Nhlanhla could have been trained as ANC intelligence/security chiefs in the Soviet Union, that is, by the KGB itself. So far there has been no adequate discussion of this possibility.
It should be noted, further, that in his biography of the former Umkhonto leader Mac Maharaj, Professor O’Malley states that in the mid-1990s Moe Shaik “served as deputy coordinator of intelligence in the Ministry of Intelligence, where he worked under Joe Nhlanhla”, and that he became a “close friend and confidant of his former Intelligence boss [in the Umkhonto underground in KwaZulu-Natal] Jacob Zuma”. (p.416) Moe Shaik is one of the brothers of Zuma’s imprisoned former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik. The final report of Judge Josephus Hefer’s commission, of January 2004, cited a statement by Moe Shaik as to his “complete faith in and undying loyalty” to Zuma. (quoted in Gordin, p.96) In the complex network of Zuma’s relationships, this tends to confirm the centrality of his former post as ANC intelligence chief: a matter of major importance in the successful campaign to displace former President Mbeki and his supporters from the ANC, first at the ANC national conference at Polokwane in December 2007 and then as they were routed from government last year.
3. Politburo member of the SACP
Gordin reports accurately that Zuma “quit the Communist Party with Mbeki and others in 1990.” (p.56) He makes no further inquiry, however, into the nature or duration of Zuma’s membership of the SACP, surely a significant matter concerning a probable future President of the Republic, but a subject once again left blank by Gordin (as blank as the inquiry into the likely perpetrator or perpetrators of Thami Zulu’s murder by the ANC-appointed Sachs Commission).
Professor O’Malley is once again forthcoming. He writes: “Zuma was elected to the Politburo [of the SACP, its most powerful executive organ – PT] at the party’s seventh conference in Havana , Cuba , in April 1989.” (note 5, p.602)
This places Zuma, already at the head of iMbokodo, at the top rank in the SACP. Mark Gevisser has given an account of how Mbeki, Zuma, Josiah Jele, Joel Netshitenzhe, Aziz Pahad and several other high-ranking members of the SACP “did not attend the SACP’s first open congress in 40 years, in December 1990 in Johannesburg.” He considers this to have been a “serious miscalculation” on Mbeki’s part, since “through the 1990s and into Mbeki’s presidency, the Party – now run by a younger generation – would become the standard bearer for left opposition to Mbeki’s economic policies, and many of its leaders, specifically the general secretary Blade Nzimande – would become fervent supporters of Jacob Zuma after Mbeki fired him in 2005.”
Though Zuma and Mbeki each abandoned his membership of the SACP – in which both had served at Politburo level – in 1990, they interpreted this differently. As Gevisser continues in a reliable explanation, as Zuma “became estranged from Mbeki, he would make a point of courting the left in the ANC-SACP-COSATU alliance – and particularly the leadership of the Party, which felt marginalised by Mbeki and his new power elite.” In this new conjuncture, Zuma “went out of his way to distance himself from Mbeki’s departure from the Party in 1990. Attending a Party policy conference in 2000 at a time when the ANC and the SACP were barely on speaking terms, he referred to the 1990 split – the primal wound in the relationship between the two fraternal organisations – and made it clear that if some had left the Party for ideological reasons, he was not one of them. The imputation was clear: while he, Zuma, might have left the Party for strategic reasons, Mbeki did so because he had lost the faith.” (p.472)
For the SACP, this declaration of continued faith in its ideological goals was a key component of a now dominant political praxis which is certain to reverse the economic policy of Mbeki, after the election in April. In the eyes of the SACP, Mbeki’s own reversal of ANC economic policy in 1996, through his high-handed replacement of the ANC’s previous statist economic Reconstruction and Development Policy (RDP) with the free-market policy of Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR), was an act of treason, by which he earned the undying hatred of the Party.
Discussion of this “primal wound” now separating the ANC, significantly led by the SACP, from Cope – representing the nucleus of Mbeki’s former government – will have to wait for a later article. It is a subject, also a very major one, unfortunately also very poorly covered in Gordin’s biography.
One may see from the three points canvassed above, however, the meaning of ex-President Mbeki (who on this subject should know what he was writing about), when in a long letter of 8th October last year to Jacob Zuma, he referred to people who might “act in the manner of the ‘anointed personality’, such as the late Kim Il-Sung determined to the people of North Korea” (see here).
No-one could know a “Kim Il-Sung” better than another former member of the Politburo. This crucial dimension, relating to the character and morality of the administration of political power, with its menacing reference to North Korea, is absent from Gordin’s book, which cannot be regarded as providing an adequate analysis.
In an “au courant” piece on new SA-related books, Jeremy Gordin, author of Zuma: A Biography, pooh-poohs the concerns about South Africa raised by Paul Trewhela (Inside Quatro) and Rian Malan (Resident Alien), with regard to the rising influence of the Communist Party here.
But this hasn’t stopped Trewhela from sounding the warning klaxons against allowing the SACP a greater say in SA’s future:
I’ll forgive a man who can write well just about anything – which is why the first book I want to mention is the recently-published Inside Quatro: Uncovering the Exile History of the ANC and Swapo (Jacana Books) by Paul Trewhela. Trewhela writes wonderfully, with passion and enormous clarity, and anyone interested in our “real” recent history should read this book.
The reason I have to “forgive him” is that I find him annoying – like a neighbourhood dog that barks at 3am every day and won’t stop. And one of the issues about which he bangs on incessantly is Jacob Zuma’s alleged complicity in the death in Lusaka of Muziwakhe Ngwenya, better known as Thami Zulu.
Gordin complains that my book is “annoying” because I sound “like a neighbourhood dog that barks at 3am every day and won’t stop.” But isn’t that what a dog is for, when danger is inside the gate?
It is time for South Africans to read again those classic investigations of totalitarianism: George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (1938), Animal Farm (1945) and 1984 (published 1949), Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon (1940), Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) and Czselaw Milosz’s The Captive Mind (1953) – all written while Comrade Stalin was alive, the idolatrous subject of the adulation of the CPSA/SACP.
Jacob Zuma and Imbokodo
The analogy between the anticipated Zuma presidency and the hypothetical presidency of Van den Bergh is made in a recent article by Paul Trewhela, an expatriate South African journalist who was imprisoned in the 1960s for his role in the ANC-linked resistance movement.
While the careers of Zuma and Van den Bergh are poles apart ideologically-speaking, they converge in one important aspect: both were shadowy figures in the murky world of counter-intelligence and the detection and neutralisation of enemy spies.
Thus, to illustrate the point:
- Van den Bergh, who served in the pro-Nazi Ossewabrandwag during the Second World War, became the feared head of the dreaded Bureau for State Security, or BOSS, under the premiership of Vorster.
- Zuma, after joining the ANC and, later, the South African Communist Party, become a high ranking official in the ANC’s Department of Intelligence and Security- aka Imbokodo, “the stone that crushes” – during the 30-year armed struggle struggle against white rule.
Imbokodo should have enjoyed the support of ANC combatants in the guerrilla camps in the black-ruled frontline states. It did not, however, because of its inclination to assume that intellectual independence and lack of servility were the tell-tale signs of the presence of enemy agents intent on undermining and destroying the ANC.
The ANC commission of inquiry headed by James Stuart into the 1984 mutiny by ANC guerrillas in camps in Angola identified hatred for, and fear of, Imbokodo as an underlying cause of the rebellion. Stuart reported that the excesses of Imbokodo zealots “made it the most notorious and infamous department in the camps.”
His commission was told of the torture and murder of cadres suspected of perfidious actions and even perfidious thoughts, judging from the detention for six weeks of Pallo Jordan, who is today the minister of arts and culture in the ANC government.
A December 1992 report by Amnesty International on the ANC camps chronicles “a long-standing pattern of torture, ill-treatment and execution of prisoners by the ANC security department.” The worst excesses of Imbokodo occurred during the tenure of Mzwandile Piliso as its chief.
Piliso, however, was replaced in 1986 by a collective leadership, headed by Joe Nhlanhla. Zuma served as Nhlahla’s deputy. He was charged with responsibility for intelligence, including the detection of enemy agents masquerading as ANC cadres.
Reports of torture by Imbokodo continued under the watch of Nhlahla and Zuma, so much so that in 1991 Nelson Mandela appointed an ANC commission of inquiry into the allegations under Thembile Skweyiya. The Skweyiya report, published in 1992, spoke of people being “brutalised and broken” by Imbokodo.
The pertinent point that emerges is that Zuma cannot escape political responsibility for these abuses of power from 1986 to 1993, when he was the second ranking ANC official in Imbokodo.
One of the most notorious abuses of power during Zuma’s watch as the generalissimo of intelligence was the detention of Thami Zulu, the guerre de nom of Mzwakhe Ngwenya, who rose to become the ANC guerrilla commander on the Natal front.
The son of a Soweto school headmaster, Zulu was widely known as TZ. He was detained by Imbokodo in mid-1988 on suspicion of being an enemy agent after his guerrilla forces suffered a series of severe setbacks at the hands of government security forces. He was released more than a year later after been held in solitary confinement in Lusaka, Zambia.
An ANC commission of inquiry into TZ’s death less than a week after his release in November 1989 noted that when he entered detention he was “a large well built slightly overweight person” and that when he came out he was “gaunt, frail and almost unrecognisable.”
He died within a week of his release. A post mortem showed that his blood contained the diazinon, a deadly poison, which – for medico-chemical reasons – had to have been administered to him not more than two days before his death.
The ANC commissioners, noting that poison had been used in the past by apartheid assassins, concluded that “South African security” had to have been responsible if, as they suspected, TZ had been poisoned.
But, as Trewhela observed as far back as 1993 (see here) and again in a recent critique of Jeremy Gordin’s Zuma – A Biography, no steps were taken by the commissioners or by Zuma as the chief of intelligence to identify the suspected agent or agents. As TZ had been under constant guard from his release to his death, it should not have been difficult to determine who had access to him and to interrogate them.
The failure to do so is doubly perplexing, as the ANC commission concluded in its report on Thami Zulu that “a check done on him in South Africa revealed no contacts with the police.” They added: “He was by all accounts an outstanding military trainee and a forceful and highly respected camp commander.”
The failure of either the ANC commission of inquiry or Imbokodo to mount a thorough investigation to identify who had access to TZ during the last two days of his life cries out for an explanation, particularly as they suspected an enemy agent was responsible for poisoning him.
It positively solicits the thought that they were reluctant to do so because identification of the killer as a senor member of Imbokodo would have been extremely embarrassing to the ANC, and to Zuma as its chief of intelligence, especially if the killer was a mole planted by the apartheid regime and if TZ the innocent victim of false charges.
Zuma has never accounted for the death of Thami Zulu, not even to TZ’s parents, whose anguished testimony to the Truth & Reconciliation Commissioner (TRC) gave him an opportunity to explain why a man who was hailed by his Umkhonto we Sizwe’s commanders, Joe Modise and Chris Hani, as a hero of the struggle had died in suspicious circumstances after being released from detention.