Online news site Africa News 24-7 pulled a feat on Wednesday and achieved what most private media houses failed to do in the last nine years: sit down for an interview with former President Jacob Zuma.
For the duration of his term, which started back in 2009 and ended prematurely in February last year, Zuma was either shielded from critical media questions or requests for interviews were simply ignored.
It was difficult for him to speak freely, it was said, because at times the “unfair” journalists “misquoted or misinterpreted” what he said. A stop-gap solution was to do only do live interviews on selected radio or television stations.
There were no surprises as the Wednesday interview with the fledging Africa News 24-7 continued in similar fashion. But, said Zuma, speaking about his foray into social media, he had taken to Twitter because he wanted to speak out and contest all the bad things said about him.
His hands were tied when he was head of state because decorum demanded that “you cannot be arguing with everybody”.
“Once I was no longer president I still see that there was a continuation of people attacking me or saying things about me.”
So, it was time to respond, he said.
His burning issue this week was the talk of a “wasted nine years” during his presidency, including in ANC circles. Although his successor President Cyril Ramaphosa had echoed the sentiments, Zuma avoided taking him head on.
He qualified his approach, saying that in Ramaphosa he sensed some “self-criticism” because he was a part of government for almost half of those nine years.
Zuma reserved his big stick for Finance Minister Tito Mboweni.
“Tito was specific in Davos to put the nine years as the biggest problem that the Zuma presidency did not help the country with in one form or another. That is why I responded.”
His first defence was a deductive argument: “It does not make the ANC look good. If you criticise, indirectly or directly, Zuma’s nine years you are also criticising the ANC’s nine years.”
It was his default fallback and it was not uncommon for him to drag the entire ANC into the picture when his personal conduct was questioned.
He remained consistent on Wednesday. If you want to kill a snake, hit it on the head, he said.
“If you attack the leader you are indirectly attacking the ANC.”
The ANC in Gauteng, he said, committed the same mistake in the 2016 municipal elections and lost two metros.
“If some in the province attack their own president? Why should people think we should vote for the ANC which has a useless kind of president?” he asked.
“They were putting [forward] problems of the leader and there were no problems. We lost two metros, but people still think we lost because of Zuma.”
He says the ANC of 2019 was repeating the same mistake, and that is why he was worried because “they are actually saying the last nine years of ANC government were wasted”.
“Because these statements say the ANC failed and we were wasting things, but please vote for us. You cannot say these things when we are approaching votes. Because people cannot vote [for] you for failure.”
But before the interview ended Zuma said: “If [ANC] leaders commit mistakes, let us be dealt with as individuals and not punish the ANC.”
But even he sounds noble when he speaks about his love for the ANC. For years he used this trick to whip dissidents into line, and it worked.
“I have gone through big [and] difficult things on behalf of the ANC, including prison, including torture, including exile.
“I believe in its policies, ideas, programmes, principles and everything. In the task that it is undertaking,” he continued.
Those who had sat with Zuma in the ANC national executive committee meetings would tell how untouchable he became when started dishing out lectures about his struggle credentials and the pain he went through. The cowards recoiled into silence.
Back to nine years, said Zuma, he saved millions of people who were dying every weekend because of HIV/Aids. Life expectancy went up and the world was awestruck.
There was no National Development Plan before him. Education improved. South Africa was like a big construction site with R1 trillion spent on infrastructure. He also found an economy in the ocean.
“Why should a leader say this was a wasted thing and we are now busy cleaning this mess? I think it is dishonest, [it is] political dishonesty but also it is something that I do not understand.”
He would not have ended without referring to the state capture commission, which he says was formed to expose his corruption.
“Some people are making me a scapegoat of everything. Like criticism about corruption. I’m made to be the number one corrupt man. There are investigations and investigations done to find out what I have done, and nothing has come out so far.”
He said: “We even established a national commission to try to find out what Zuma has done. In fact, my understanding is that the purpose of the commission that is there now was meant to find this corruption about me.”
But, said Zuma, “nothing has been said about me. So, I am being made a scapegoat”.
A person so flagrantly victimised and offended would be bitter, but not him.
“I’m not bitter. I do not get bitter by any means and I’m not a bitter man. I have never been a bitter man,” referring to when he was fired last February.
He had principles too: “I have my principles that if there are wrong things done find a way to correct them. And I do not deal with individuals. I deal in the ANC, with the ANC as an organisation”.
Zuma warned that the ANC also needed leaders who listened to the membership.
“Because if leaders do not listen, then they ignore what the membership is saying, then they will make members of the organisation do things that they have never thought they will do.”