23. Brother Jacob.

I am not a political animal. I vote my conscience at election time, but I’ve never joined a party or attended a meeting. And I’ve tried to avoid writing about politics on this blog. This has not been easy. While I’ve been tucked away writing about Aardvarks and two-minute noodles, things have been happening. Amazing things. Tragic things. Funny things. And I’ve set them on one side and soldiered on with the noodles.

I like to focus on the important things.

I like to focus on the important things.

Why? Not because I’m sensitive about these things, or even because I think you would be bored. You wouldn’t. It’s just that every time I set out to do so, and I try to give the story some context, I find myself writing a book. And not a short one.

But no more. This week, I’m going to talk about politics. I’ve worked out how to do it. It’s actually pretty easy. All I have to do is get you to understand that you will never understand. And the easiest way to do that? I’m going to tell you a little about our president. No explanations, no examinations or analyses, just some facts. I’ll even number them for you.

While I do so, remember one thing. South Africa is a democracy. Not a dictatorship, or a banana republic, or a puppet state. This man has been chosen because he is the best of our leaders. Or so the theory goes.

No more chitchat. Here are 7 things you need to know about Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma.


1. He has no formal education.

And I don’t mean he doesn’t have a degree. I mean he did not finish school. His stepmother taught him to read and write. While you and I were sitting in a classroom, he was standing out in a field, looking after cattle. And now he leads a country.

Don’t take this to mean that his party, the ANC, is made up of ignorant farm boys, either. It is not. It is the country’s ruling elite, littered with degrees from some of the world’s most prestigious universities. Think, instead, of how smart this makes him.

2. He’s a spook.


Like Putin in Russia, Zuma was a spy boss. While the ANC was in exile in the 80’s, he became Head of Underground Structures and then Chief of the Intelligence Department.

Remember that the ANC was an underground revolutionary movement. They were at war. An underground war. Dodgy things happened. And Zuma knows about all of them. He knows where the bodies are buried.

3. He’s been married a few times.

Six. Zuma has been married six times. One of his wives committed suicide. Another divorced him. And the other four? He’s still married to them. He’s a polygamist.

Our President. And his wife. And his wife. And his wife. And his wife.

Our President. And his wife. And his wife. And his wife. And his wife.

If you think four is a crazy number of wives for the president of a modern democracy, don’t worry. He’s engaged again. He’s seventy.

4. He’s a father.

An estimated 22 times over. And yes, I did say estimated. Our president, you see, is a rather virile man. Six wives have not proved equal to the task of keeping him satisfied. So he gets around a bit on the side. Every now and then, illegitimate children emerge from the shadows. The latest one being the daughter of one of the country’s top football coaches.

He no longer names them. He just gives them numbers.

He no longer names them. He just gives them numbers.

If you haven’t started getting an idea of how different our political landscape is, maybe I can help you out here. Close your eyes and picture an American election. I know you’re not all American, but we all follow American elections on TV like we’re watching a game show.

Now picture one of those endless debates on CNN leading up to the election, with grey haired and patrician-looking pundits from both sides leaning forward on their elbows while one of them casually drops the sentence “We think Obama might have about twenty two children, but no-one is sure.”

5. He nearly went to jail for corruption.

This one gets complicated. But it boils down to this. While Zuma was deputy president, a man called Shabir Shaik was charged with, tried for, and found guilty of corruption. Specifically, he was found guilty of soliciting a bribe for Zuma. He went to jail for 15 years. And then the prosecutors turned on Zuma. There was much toing and froing, but to cut a long story short, the charges were dropped when it was found that there had been political interference. Zuma was made president soon after. Shaik stayed in jail though.

For two out of his fifteen years. He was paroled on medical grounds. It turned out the poor man was dying. Of high blood pressure. That was in 2009. He’s still dying. On a golf course in Durban. Luckily, for the integrity of our nation, no-one suspects for even a second that Zuma had anything to do with his release.

Crime doesn't pay.

Crime doesn’t pay.

6. He’s been on trial for rape, too.

Soon before Zuma came into power, the daughter of a struggle comrade spent the night at his home (she was a friend of his daughter). The next day, she laid a rape charge against him. It went to trial. He was acquitted. It turned out the girl was emotionally unbalanced, so her testimony was unreliable. He was no rapist. He just had consensual sex with one of his daughter’s emotionally unbalanced friends while she was a guest in his house.

Just as an aside, the girl was HIV positive. Zuma knew this. She was a prominent AIDS activist. And he was head of the National AIDS council. He was careful, though. He didn’t wear a condom, but he made sure he had a shower when he was done.


Don’t even try to fit this into that CNN scenario. It will give you a headache;

“Sure, Romney boned his daughter’s friend in his living room. But the judge said she was into it. I don’t see what this has to do with the elections…”

7. His house has a very nice fence.

South Africa’s ministerial handbook says that ministers may make improvements to their private homes to the tune of R100 000 of taxpayers’ money. Zuma’s private home is in a place called Nkandla. It’s been improved. To the tune of R206 000 000. If that looks suspicious to you, don’t worry. Zuma’s home has been declared a National Key Point, under an old apartheid law that was never revoked. And the money was all spent on security.

That’s right. 24km down a dirt road from a tiny rural settlement is a collection of thatched huts surrounded by a R206 000 000 fence. We promise. Our government told us.

It is, you must admit, a very nice fence.

It is, you must admit, a very nice fence.

I have barely scratched the surface here. This is a complex, interesting, and many-facetted man. I find him terrifying. How do we find our way back to normal after this guy?

I haven’t given you much detail. But I hope you’ve seen enough to know that my land is nothing like your land. We follow our own set of rules here. They will make no sense to you, but they do have their own internal logic.

So If I tell you tomorrow that a provincial minister bought a R15 000 artwork in a Macdonald’s with his government credit card, and still has a job, go with it. If I tell you that the ruling party has a lucrative investment arm that is allowed to do business with the government, accept it. If I tell you that thirty billion rand goes missing in the hands of our government every year with no consequences, just smile and nod, and keep on reading.

There’s lots to see. It’s a madhouse. And you’ve seen who’s running the asylum.


32 thoughts on “23. Brother Jacob.

  1. presjzuma says:

    Thank you for this. Would you mind if I use it to “sex up” my current resume? Being taught to read and write by granny sounds soooo much more hipster than simply: “I got standard Too”. Or is it To?


    The Europeans luuurve that sort of stuff.

    But listen, as for that jail thing (Ad Paragraph 5), I nearly (as you say) went to jail. Not “did”. Schabir tells me there is a suble difference.

  2. Marcia says:

    I am speechless. (Alert the media! It probably won’t happen again.)

  3. At least you don’t need to pay for comedians. You can just watch your politicians instead. 🙂

  4. wmanwere says:

    great 23rd post Mr 23thorns, I should be the only one who’s reading this with not so many oohs and aahs. Since I have seen worse. Because I live in that country to your north, ring a bell?

  5. Lyn says:

    I love your blog 23! Or should that be, I love your Blog 23, 23. It was very enlightening. Hysterical, but enlightening. I’m guessing a lot of people in South Africa find it hysterical, but not hysterically ha-ha; more like hysterically worrying/scary/sad. Our problems here pale into insignificance even if the ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) are delving deeply into the behaviour of several former and current politicians who are very possibly going to end up in gaol.
    On current costings, R206,000 (AU$22,046.74) is not an exorbitant amount to pay for a fence when you consider that some of our politicians spend that much and more just to take a couple of their mates to lunch – no McDonald’s for them, thank you very much.
    As for his matrimonial situation, well, I’d be keeping a close eye on wifey wearing the black dress – she does not look very happy.

    • 23thorns says:

      Read it again. It wasn’t 206 000. It was 206 000 000. It was spent on “security”.

      • Lyn says:

        Oh, so it is! Well, in that case, AU$21,000,000 is a tad excessive. Serves me right for trying to read without wearing my specs 🙂
        Even our pollies wouldn’t spend quite that much on lunch.

  6. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

  7. I like that your daily posting requirement is revealing your more serious side… Great writing.

  8. mud4fun says:

    So let me get this straight, your president is corrupt, can’t control his ‘snake’, gets his cohorts to cover for him, steals money from the taxpayer and lives in a home that has been ‘improved’ by fiddling the expenses – exaclty how is this different to any UK politician?????

    And no I’m not joking, I’m deadly serious. All politicians are corrupt, the more powerful, the more corrupt. The only difference is that UK polticians have more inteliigence and more skill at fiddling the system and screwing the taxpayer 😦

    • 23thorns says:

      The difference is that in the UK, if the Prime Minister was exposed for any one of these things, he would resign or be booted. Our guy was given a second term.
      I do agree that power corrupts, and good men rarely seek it out, but we have an added burden in that even brazenly criminal behaviour seems to have no consequences.

      • mud4fun says:

        LOL, I do understand what you are saying and agree that there is more chance of the UK Prime Minister being forced out if found quilty of corruption or criminal behaviour. However over recent years many of our MP’s have been caught stealing money from the taxpayer by fiddling their expenses which in many cases amounted to tens of thsounds of pounds and in some cases it was hundreds of thousands. Some have been employing their family members in high paid ‘assistant’ jobs. Some have been directing lucrative contracts to businesses that they have affiliations to – all this is criminal behaviour and yet most are still in office! A select few scapegoats have faced police investigations and a very small number have faced prison but really the majority of known corrupt and criminal MP’s are still in their jobs or have been ‘retired’ with significant benefits rather than fired.

        When voting for a politician in the UK we don’t think which one is not corrupt but rather which corrupt one will actually achieve some good in return for their corrupt habits 😉

  9. narf77 says:

    And the strangest thing of all is that he got voted in in the first place… At least he is an interesting character to go with it…he has a bit of entertainment value 😉

    • 23thorns says:

      We don’t get to choose the president, just the party. I can’t wait to see who they’ve got lined up next.

      • narf77 says:

        I don’t even WANT to think about what we are going to end up with after our next election…so much so that I am going to have to be lead in blindfolded to vote 😦

  10. Almost reads like a day in the life of Washingon politics, very scary situation.

  11. kat170 says:

    Fascinating! And puts our rather boring Canadian politics into perspective…

  12. joanfrankham says:

    Sounds very familiar, but then, I lived in Zimbabwe! !

  13. Excellent reporting, 23 T’s. Keep it up.

  14. cari365 says:

    Big Balls 23 😀 I echo buzzwords…enjoy the Hansa!

  15. johnjroberts says:

    We deal with the same crap here. Perhaps it is more subtle. Or perhaps we’re too jaded to notice it all. Should I be surprised that you are not writing this from a jail cell?


    • 23thorns says:

      Nope. We still have our freedom. I can say what I like. This week. The government is hard at work trying to pass what is called “the Secrecy Bill” which basically opens a door to press censorship. But it’s proving to be harder than they expected.

  16. Buzzwordz says:

    Brilliantly written! I see a possible future for you at CNN, where do we send the case of Hansa?

  17. longviewhill says:

    Ummm… wow. Kind of makes all of our American political shenanigans pale in comparison.

  18. billgncs says:

    spy bosses are the most dangerous and frightening of men. Even in the US, our president uses them against the press. Funny how some in power don’t care to trust the people.

  19. “Every nation has the government it deserves.” Joseph de Maistre

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