OPINION | JZ faces conundrum: who will foot his bill?

PREMIUM

They say there’s a sucker born every minute. Jacob Zuma is banking on that being true. Literally.
uBaba, you see, needs somewhere around R30m to cover the costs of his endless attempts to hold back the legal tide. And apparently he doesn’t have it.
What he does have, of course, is a shabby court of die-hard lickspittles, all still kowtowing before the ruined Big Man, begging him to trample on them for just a little bit longer.
And this week they were in full voice, demanding that “filthy rich” Cyril Ramaphosa contribute to the perverted charity that is Zuma’s legal fund. (Given that I’ve never heard the ANC describe the Guptas as “filthy rich”, I’d be interested to know how these distinctions are made. For example, has Patrice Motsepe dodged such condemnations – he seems to be merely slightly dusty rich – because he bought the nation 20 minutes of Beyoncé?)
It was an admirable display of loyalty, but also a sign of how low they and their idol have fallen. Five years ago, when Zuma giggled at the centre of a vast orgy of theft, with public money pumping like custard into open mouths, he could have raised R30m in his sleep. For God’s sake, it’s only seven firepools.
But that was before Nasrec. A year and a day later, his former benefactors need to do their sums much more carefully.
Back in the golden days of state capture, a million or two bought you into the speakeasy where cadres lit their cigars with burning copies of the Constitution and toasted the possibility of Russian nuclear billions with Putin’s finest vodka.
But now? If you slip Zuma or his clique a brown envelope these days, what exactly are you getting for your money? What can he give you, other than a Thank You card paid for by somebody else? Sure, he can promise you access and untraceable riches when he bounces back, but how likely is that bounce now that Ramaphosa is slowly letting the air out of Zuma’s world?
No, uBaba is no longer a good investment. Which means he will have to rely on many small donations by a cohort of doormats and suckers.
Still, one can’t help wondering: how exactly is it possible to be at the forefront of a government involved in the Arms Deal, a Fifa World Cup, and then a decade of looting in which anything between R100bn and R500bn was stolen, and not have a piddling R30m in the bank?
Of course, it’s not news that Zuma is appalling with money, sometimes even his own. He sucked so much money out of Schabir Shaik that poor Schabir developed a terminal illness. (Thoughts and prayers, SS!) And of course there is Nkandla, the crumbling, rustic gulag that somehow evaporated 250m of our rand.
But can anyone be so inept that they can’t skim a few hundred million off a heist of hundreds of billions?
It leaves only two explanations. Either Zuma has a huge fortune squirrelled away overseas but is expecting, yet again, that someone else will foot the bill; or he is genuinely broke and is the most incompetent crook in the history of criminality.
Fortunately for uBaba there is a glimmer of hope. For starters, there’s the R8,000 you and I still pay him, every single day of his life, keeping the wolf from the door. And if push comes to shove, he could always sell Nkandla.
Not that it’s worth R250m, of course. I’d be surprised if it’s worth R50m: Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, ANC cadres gotta inflate construction tenders sky-high.
But perhaps, if he digs very deep, and returns to the lean, revolutionary austerity of his youth, he can push through. Yes, if he offloaded Nkandla for only R50m and paid the lawyers he’d only have R20m of our money to buy himself a modest fixer-upper. And that R2.9m a year salary would only go so far – about as far as Dubai, I imagine. But Msholozi has faced adversity before and somehow he’s still here. He won’t give up. Even if he has to spend every cent you have...

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