06/04/2018 15:21 SAST | Updated 06/04/2018 19:10 SAST

Decoding Zuma: Charismatic 'Victim Of A Political Agenda'

The former president maintains he is being victimised for trying to bring about "radical economic transformation".

 Jacob Zuma appears at the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Durban. April 6, 2018.
POOL New / Reuters
Jacob Zuma appears at the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Durban. April 6, 2018.

If nothing else, Jacob Zuma can play to the people.

Even in his darkest moments, staring down the barrel of 16 charges of fraud, corruption, money laundering and racketeering, the former president and master political strategist remains charismatic, resilient and sharp-tongued.

This was most visible when he appeared at the high court in Durban on Friday.

Zuma entered the courthouse with a calm demeanour, taking his seat and turning back to greet his supporters with a smile, clasping his hands together and bowing his head to show gratitude. Throughout the to-and-fro between the state and his defence, Zuma remained straight-faced, perhaps frustrated with the process rather than nervous of its outcome.

Nic Bothma/ POOL New / Reuters
Jacob Zuma in court. April 6, 2018.

But it was when he left the court precinct that Msholozi's energy returned.

Escorted by presidential security and members of the uMkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association [MKMVA], Zuma was comfortable, waving and smiling to the media and supporters who rushed to greet him.

He made his way onto a stage set up in the road outside the court – his crowd of supporters breaking into applause and chanting his name.

Pontsho Mabena
Jacob Zuma greets his supporters as he emerges from the Durban High Court.

On stage, Zuma was ecstatic.

He shook the hands of prominent figures who appeared at his side, like Andile Mngxitama, Sihle Zikalala and Willies Mchunu, and stood waiting for his turn to speak while his loyalists sang his praises.

It was with a raised fist and a loud "Amandla" that Zuma began his speech. That is when his onslaught began – delivered in robust, unapologetic isiZulu that reminded South Africa what a powerful orator he is.

READ: The State vs Jacob Zuma: 9 Things You Need To Know.

"I haven't heard that the same charges are laid on a person, dismissed, and then they come back again. With no difference. Further, there were many charges back then and less of them now. I just don't know who decided which ones should be resurrected," he said.

"This case is back because of politics. Opposition parties... they push their opposition not in Parliament but in the courts, where there should be no politics."

Rogan Ward / Reuters
Jacob Zuma addresses his supporters outside the high court in Durban. April 6, 2018.

Zuma firmly insists that he has done nothing wrong, and is instead the victim of a political agenda against him. He is adamant about this.

"They are treating me like a prisoner... I was MEC when those arms were bought by national government. Maybe it's my spirit that was there. Someone will have to tell me then, what did I do?"

His supporters believe him to be the champion of "radical economic transformation", and Zuma is not humble about this. He placed particular emphasis on his claim to have fought against market-sector monopolies and big business, reiterating that his fight was for the poor in South Africa.

READ: What Zuma Told His Supporters.

"The problem now, the one I'm hated and vilified for, is that freedom without economic freedom is not complete... As I am going to court, I reiterate poverty must end, radical economic transformation must happen."

When speaking about this, his demeanour changed. Rather than casually speaking or making jokes to the amusement of the crowd, he became strict, waving a single pointed index finger in the air.

Zuma, according to himself, is the victim of "lying politicians and business monopolies" who have launched a campaign against him because he "fights for the interests of the poor".

It is this narrative that makes him a powerful politician still.