Jacob Zuma: People’s president or corrupt demigod?

South Africans regale with their memories of the enigmatic and controversial President Jacob Zuma.

FILE PHOTO: Former South African deputy-President Jacob Zuma stands in the dock during the judgement in his trial for rape in the Johannesburg High Court
Jacob Zuma resigned as president of South Africa after nine years in office [Reuters]

Durban, South Africa – Jacob Zuma has fallen. After the protests, the multiple allegations of racketeering, corruption and mismanagement of state resources, South Africa’s president has finally resigned. 

To many, the end of the Zuma era comes as a relief.

Under Zuma, South Africa suffered its lowest point in post-apartheid history when 34 miners were shot down at Marikana in August 2012.

Persistent economic woes and high unemployment resulted in a rise in anti-government demonstrations known as “service delivery” protests. Meanwhile, a continuous stream of corruption allegations pitted against Zuma damaged South Africa’s image. 

How Zuma, whose presidency started in 2009, will be remembered is however not altogether straightforward.

Not all South Africans are in agreement they are better off without him. For this part of the population, Zuma was the “people’s president” – charming, affable and relatable. 

Al Jazeera spoke to South Africans in the eastern port city of Durban and asked how they would remember their enigmatic former president.

Nosipho Franklin, 18, student 

[Azad Essa/Al Jazeera]
[Azad Essa/Al Jazeera]

Zuma leaves behind a poor legacy. He is a not a leader we look up to. I understand that a lot of the problems we face when it comes to health and education infrastructure is a result of corruption. You just have to look at the difference between rural and urban schools to see how people are living.

Am I happy that he is gone? Not really. My parents will not miss him. My dad is unemployed. Well, he runs a tuckshop now to make a little money. And my mother works at a hotel. I am thinking about my future after I finish school. I want to be a lawyer, but I am not sure if I will be able to afford university. I see all these unemployed people and I think to myself: what if I become unemployed, too?

According to StatsSASouth Africa’s overall unemployment rate sits around 27 percent. In 2017, it found that some 3.3 million young people between the ages of 15-24 were neither in school nor employed. Around 33 percent of South Africans between the ages of 25-33 are without work.

Mthokozisi Mthembu, 38, unemployed 

[Azad Essa/Al Jazeera]
[Azad Essa/Al Jazeera]

I will remember him as someone with more than four wives. As the president who looked after himself and not others. I trusted him. I voted for him. Look where he left us. As time went on, he showed his true colours.

Our president was a criminal. Look at it this way: If I commit a crime, I am marked for life. I won’t get a job because I would be considered dirty. How could the leader of our country be so involved in criminality and still be allowed to lead? This is unfair.

His legacy? I don’t think he did even one thing for the country. I guess I will miss the dancing on stage. Nothing more. In the end, we fought for him. And then he threw us away.

Zuma has faced allegations of corruption long before he became president. He was also accused of rape for which he was acquitted of charges in 2006. His supporters contended that he was a victim of a conspiracy to keep him out of office and many members of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and the trade unions rallied behind him. Zuma subsequently became president of South Africa in 2009. His time in office has been marred by a string of allegations of corruption and racketeering. The National Prosecuting Authority subsequently dropped charges against him, citing irregularities. In 2017, the country’s Supreme Court ruled that 18 counts of corruption ought to be reinstated.

Wandile Giwu, 26, student

 [Azad Essa/Al Jazeera]
 [Azad Essa/Al Jazeera]

I am not happy that he is leaving. He leaves behind a legacy of free and quality education. We didn’t know that we had the capacity to fund education, until he said we could. We know that when the ANC tables land expropriation without compensation, it would be because of him. He also played a part in exposing white monopoly capital. He is the only president in the history of the ANC who had the courage to fight it head-on. Ultimately, they [white South Africa] gave us everything except the land and the economy.

When it comes to the allegations of state capture, the state was captured a long time ago. This is selective finger-pointing. And we are focusing only on Zuma. There is a broader perspective one needs to take when looking at state capture.

We will believe that President Cyril Ramaphosa will listen to the ANC and follow our ambitions. For those who think that he will just listen to what business wants, are mistaken.

In 2015, a student-led movement under the banner Fees Must Fall (FMF) demanded the end of tuition fees for tertiary education. The South African government always maintained that they were not able to absorb the full cost of higher education. But in late 2017, just days before Ramaphosa succeeded him as leader of the ANC, Zuma announced that higher education would be made free to students from families who were categorised as poor and working class. It is still unclear if the government will be able to implement the plan.

Mpendulo Khwela, 27, student

Looking at the state of the nation currently, we’re at a stage where we need to look at what’s wrong and where exactly we went wrong. President Zuma is the first president in this country who fought and brought developments such as the BRICS [Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa] grouping in order to boost and sustain the country’s economy.

He is the only one who has fought white monopoly capital. He might have charges hanging against him but the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) will have to make us understand why they were dropped at first. They need to tell us on what grounds the charges are now back in the picture. If he’s then found guilty the law will have to take its course.

South Africa remains one of the most unequal countries in the world. The economy is also split on racial lines. White South Africans still earn over five times more than black people in the country. It was under Zuma that the question of “white monopoly capital” (in reference to the dominant role of white people in the economy) became a popular term. It also became a refrain for all supporters of Zuma when faced with questions of corruption.

Follow Azad Essa on Twitter: @AzadEssa

Source: Al Jazeera