Former president Jacob Zuma was in his element during the SABC interview on Wednesday. He was without a script in front of him, and thus he spoke fluidly despite his visible inner tension. The interview was riveting, and it confirmed for me that Zuma is exactly what I heard he was all those years ago when I was nothing more than a lowly member of the ANC on the Cape Flats.
In the SABC interview, the behind-the-hand whispers by honourable comrades who were far higher up the totem pole and with first-hand knowledge of who Zuma was, were confirmed after nearly 28 years. At that time, it was widely rumoured that Zuma should be handled with caution, that he was politically ambitious and that he would not shy away from putting a match to a tinderbox.
The late Nelson Mandela's refusal to meet Zuma on his return from exile – and the fact that he did not hold any position in the Mandela government – cemented the idea for me that Zuma was not good news and that he was best kept away from the seats of power.
However, for his role in the early 1990s in bringing calm to KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) when it was on the brink of civil war, Zuma was rewarded in 1994, when the ANC under then-president Mandela made an exception in the organisation's constitution, so that Zuma could hold the positions of national chair of the party and chair of the ANC in KZN simultaneously.
This was an exception that allowed Zuma to cement his authority at grassroots level in KZN and at the same time, it was the start of the end for the ANC – as they cowered at the threat of Jacob Zuma being able to cause massive disruptions at the time.
When Thabo Mbeki fell out of favour with rank-and-file ANC members, it was fired-up Deputy President Zuma who managed to seize the moment and skilfully manoeuvre his way into the presidency. With the help of the ANC Youth League and Cosatu, Jacob Zuma became president of the ANC and 18 months later, president of South Africa.
Zuma feels that he has been victimised, especially in the absence of reasons being given for his recall.
The slow but steady degradation of South Africa under his leadership is well documented and has been known to the current leadership of the ANC for a long time. On Thursday they were willing to vote in support of an EFF motion to remove the president – after fighting tooth and nail for a man who earlier this week, secretary-general Magashule said "had done nothing wrong".
Calling their bluff, Zuma insisted, even during his resignation speech, that he had done nothing wrong.
Zuma feels that he has been victimised, especially in the absence of reasons being given for his recall. In Zuma's mind, he is the one who is wronged in this David-and-Goliath battle between him and the ANC top six, and he has gone to great pains to highlight the fact that the decision to recall him was not an issue that was discussed anywhere else [within the ANC] except in the ANC leadership.
As we digest Zuma's final "cry me a river" interview with the SABC, we should not simply disregard his comment that ANC leaders will regret plunging the organisation into a crisis, as some people may not like what is happening.
Zuma clearly feels that he was unfairly treated by his comrades, and his not-so-subtle threat confirms to me the whispers of all those years ago – that Jacob Zuma is power-hungry and will mobilise masses if he does not get his way.
Even though Zuma laid down the reins as president, I do not believe that we have seen the last of this crafty politician. He may have vacated the presidency, but he is by no means gone from the political arena.
We saw the authentic Zuma during the SABC interview; seething and embittered, and a man who has a lot of fight left in him.
Zuma's repeated reference during his resignation speech to "white monopoly capital" – which he has suggested the ANC is controlled by – should especially not be disregarded. We must remain cautious, despite his plea that no violence erupt in his name.
Zuma's mercurial nature was on full display during the SABC interview and his address to the nation on Valentine's Day 2018, and it was these Jekyll-and-Hyde traits that the post-Mandela ANC indulged for the longest time. They took forever to stare down the schoolyard bully and call his bluff.
The ANC's relationship with Zuma has always reminded me of the fable of the scorpion and the frog who meet on the bank of a stream.
Instead, they arrogantly insisted for years that Zuma was doing nothing wrong as president, and treated fellow members of Parliament from opposition parties with contempt and derision – the very members they were prepared to team up with, so that they could eventually lance the boil that they have tolerated and protected, despite the discomfort and embarrassment it caused.
The ANC's relationship with Zuma has always reminded me of the fable of the scorpion and the frog who meet on the bank of a stream. The scorpion asks the frog to carry him across the river on its back. The frog then asks, "How do I know you won't sting me?" to which the scorpion replies, "Because if I do, I will die too." This reasoning makes sense to the frog, who allows the scorpion to climb on his back.
In midstream, the scorpion stings the frog. As the frog feels his body getting heavy, paralysis sets in and he starts to sink, he asks the scorpion why he stung him, knowing that they will both drown. The scorpion simply replies: "It's my nature ..."