President Jacob Zuma’s sons misbehaving
The bad publicity generated by the dubious dealings of two of President Jacob Zuma’s children and other relatives is unlikely to have a bearing on the president’s fortunes at the ANC’s elective conference in Mangaung. But it has been described as a PR disaster that could severely compromise public confidence in him as he angles for a second term as the country’s first citizen.
Last week it was reported that Zuma’s son Edward was being sued in the High Court in Durban for R1.5 million, for allegedly failing to settle his wedding bills – shining a spotlight, once again, on “Zuma Inc” – as the controversial business dealings of the president’s extended family have been dubbed.
Edward Zuma was also in the news earlier this year when the head of the SAPS Organised Crime Unit, Johan Booysen, accused him of meddling in a criminal investigation. Booysen claimed the president’s son tried to use his influence to unfreeze R15m so that he could access dividends from a R900 000 investment resting with his business partner, fraud accused Thoshan Panday.
The same month, reports emerged that a company that allegedly used the president’s brother Michael for fronting was being investigated by the Hawks for major tender irregularities, including giving money and gifts to high-ranking officers within police supply-chain management.
In 2009, the year Zuma became president, his nephew Mandla Gcaba emerged as the winner of a multi-million-rand contract to operate the eThekwini municipality’s bus service. Several bus companies, aggrieved that the deal had not gone out for public tender, mounted a court challenge that resulted in the deal being declared illegal in December 2009. The company is still operating on a month-to-month basis and has received more than R300m, according to municipal manager S’bu Sithole. He said the city was investigating the feasibility of buying back the bus service.
Also in 2009, Aurora Empowerment Systems, run by Zuma’s nephew Khulubuse Zuma, took over Pamodzi Gold and proceeded to run its Grootvlei and Orkney mines where thousands of workers have been left unpaid, destitute and homeless – and Aurora directors heavily indebted. The deal has been described as an example of the worst of black economic empowerment policies.
In 2010, Zuma’s son Duduzani, then 27, raised a storm of outrage when he looked poised to become an overnight billionaire in a controversial multi-billion mining deal with Arcelor-Mittal SA – a deal Duduzani notoriously described as “money for jam”. It was generally felt the deal was only offered to him because of his connection to the president. The deal later collapsed.
Zuma’s in-laws, too, have contributed to the family’s dubious PR. Son-in-law Lonwabo Sambudla – married to Duduzani’s twin sister Duduzile – raised public ire when it emerged that he had links to the Billion Group which was recommended for a R1bn contract to build new headquarters for the Department of Public Service and Administration.
“It lowers President Zuma’s dignity,” says political analyst Protas Madlala.
But will it have any bearing at Mangaung? Not really, Madlala believes. “
It’s not likely to be one of the factors… but it’s not good for him. People talk. They say, ‘we trusted this man, he was described as a people’s person’.”
Zakhele Ndlovu, lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, believes that although the bad PR is unlikely to ruffle any feathers at Mangaung, it remains something Zuma and the ANC can ill-afford to ignore.
“I think people who are going to vote for Zuma have already made up their minds. Remember, it’s not about Zuma, but also about people who want to maintain their lifestyles. So, they will want the status quo to remain. But I think Zuma and the ANC need to be concerned by this kind of publicity. In the case of Khulubuse, it’s the insensitivity that we have seen, living so large in face of poverty.
“When he donated R1m to the ANC at a time when the newspapers were carrying reports about unpaid workers at his mine, it made him come across as someone who is insensitive.
“It would be nicer if Zuma’s relatives were seen to be adding value to society, such as helping poor school children.”
Referring to the Edward Zuma wedding controversy, Ndlovu said: “Why go all out and plan for an expensive wedding if you cannot afford it? We live in a society where people tend to live way beyond their means. When you have high-profile people like the Zumas, they are the ones who should be setting an example for the rest of us.”
Ndlovu says the accumulation of massive wealth by the Zuma family was a matter of public record, and the only thing he could do was tell his children to toe the line.
“But the problem is that Zuma himself attracts a lot of bad publicity. He needs help.”
Ndlovu cites self-styled billionaire and fraud convict Mandla Lamba’s successful association with Zuma as an example of how some among the president’s own support staff had let him down.
“How did a guy like that end up having his picture taken with Zuma? Zuma has all these people in intelligence surrounding him. How did they allow something that compromises the integrity of the president like that to happen? Zuma needs to be very, very careful.”
With Zuma widely accepted to be a shoo-in for re-election at Mangaung, Madlala believes an opportunity still exists for him to save himself further embarrassment.
“It’s not too late to rein them in, he can do damage control. But I’ve heard he was told to act when the Aurora thing broke, but he responded very angrily and asked: ‘Do you want my children to suffer and have nothing?’ He said, ‘I grew up with nothing. Now you want the same for my children?’
“That’s the attitude. All he does is bury his head in the sand like an ostrich.” – Sunday Argus