Analysis: South Africa’s Jacob Zuma confirms Africa’s plight – Says Dr Michael J.K. Bokor

The writer, Dr Michael J.K. Bokor

No one needs fear anything for saying that South Africa’s President, Jacob Zuma, is a very good example of a very bad African leader in contemporary times. He is self-acquisitive and mindlessly profligate. Talk about the sweetness of the flesh, and you will have him in focus. His life style is on the loose!

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Now, he has added another feather to the collections in his cap. He has caused 20 million dollars of public funds to be spent, refurbishing his private residence (See:

To worsen his public image, he seems to be manipulating the Establishment to gag the press and prevent that profligacy from being exposed. But he has misfired because the media have published the picture of that house (a house equipped with a helipad and a bunker, among others!)—all for his personal comfort while the millions of poor South Africans supporting his political cause languish in squalor as the country’s economy lags.

Only a lame-brain will support such a project for self-gratification at the expense of the state and citizens.

President Zuma emerges as the latest example of African leaders who give the wrong name to self-government. He is one case of a walking contradiction, viewed within the context of what the ANC and the moderate anti-Apartheid whites and Asian minorities that put him in power stand for.

Africa abounds in such walking contradictions. Tell me which African country hasn’t produced any self-seeking leader like Jacob Zuma, and I will revise my notes. With such leaders, our plight is sealed tight!

The sad commentary is that most of these leaders spent many years in obscurity as nonentities only to be favoured by Lady Luck to head their countries and run into fortune in the corridors of power. There is very little to their credit as turning away from such fortune or using it to improve governance for the benefit of the citizens. A lot exists to confirm that they relish all that enters their domain and do all they can to remain in power until swept away by irresistible forces. And they can be vicious in attack too!!

Since the immediate post-independence area to date, almost every African country has had the unfortunate experience of being ruled by such characters—walking examples of profligacy and wickedness.

While they amass wealth and wallow in opulence, the millions of their compatriots have no option but to face the scourge of excruciating poverty only to put in office at election time worse dolts.

Some of the worst cases have since died but their nasty legacy endures as a painful reminder of self-government gone wrong!

A parade of such dead profligate African leaders exists: Mobutu Sese Seko (Zaire); Hastings Kamuzu Banda (Malawi); Jean Bedel Bokasa (Central African Republic); Zambia’s Frederick Chiluba; Gabon’s Omar Bongo; Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi; and Uganda’s Iddi Amin. Many more!

Many others are still alive and in power, fleecing their countries’ coffers and colluding with foreign “vampire systems” to exploit their own people: Equatorial Guinea’s Mbasoko Obiang and his son Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue; Denis Sassou Nguesso  of Congo-Brazzaville and his son Christel Sassou Nguesso; and many others whose names conjure revulsion.

Ghana’s John Agyekum Kufuor caused millions to be spent on his private residence and got away with the shame, even when a Kumasi-based Kofi Marfo (so-called farmer) couldn’t stand the humiliation and offered the amount 41 million Cedis to make up for what was at issue. The national coffers suffered.

Some have been accused of high-level corruption but no one has been able to expose their loot—whether saved at the Swiss Banks or secured in impenetrable vaults on earth or under water! They are walking about, portraying themselves as paragons of propriety, morality, and incorruptibility. They know themselves just as we know them.

Others have lost their grip on power and are paying dearly for their greed and wickedness: Liberia’s Charles Taylor (languishing in jail to serve 50 years for crimes against humanity); Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak (suffering much anguish and harvesting hatred for himself and his family); Tunisia’s Zine Abedine (secure in the safe haven that Saudi Arabia has given him after fleeing from the anger of his own people); and Chad’s Hissene Habre (facing the grueling spectre of being returned to his homeland to face justice); Malawi’s Rupiah Banda is being tried for corruption; and there are many more.

Some have adroitly shifted the burden of exploiting the system to the family members. Isabel Dos Santos, the daughter of Jose Edouardo dos Santos of Angola, comes to mind. Gabon’s Omar Bongo groomed his son (Ali Bongo, now the President of Gabon) to protect his wealth, including the Presidency. Happenings in other countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Togo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon, among others, can’t be left out.

Now, the troubling question is: Why are African leaders so unconscionable as to go this way?

One clear answer: Because they are more committed to cushioning themselves than using their offices for the common good. They are more adept at manipulating the system to personal advantage than using the enormous powers at their disposal to implement policies and programmes for nation-building. And through trickery, treachery, and chicanery, they always have their way.

Take the South African case, for instance. The Establishment is being used to intimidate the press so that the huge expenditure made on President Zuma’s private residence will remain a secret. How could the project and the siphoning of all that money not be known to the Legislature or anybody else?

What is particularly unfortunate about this South African case must be clear to all. Considering the history behind the rise to power of the ANC, one will not struggle to adduce reasonably sound arguments that present President Zuma and those supporting his run-away lifestyle as wayward self-seekers.

How much blood didn’t the African natives shed to pave the way for a government chosen by the citizens in a democratically determined manner to serve their needs? And to say that it took them more than a century to have that power to elect their own leaders, not to talk about the agonizing phases of all the forms of struggle (peaceful protests to be met with brutal force from the racist Apartheid system; acts of civil disobedience to be met with more stringent race-based laws; and armed struggle to be met with the most ferocious power at the disposal of the Nationalist Party government of the Afrikaners).

Anybody who has his head properly screwed on his shoulders will grieve at the profligacy and uncaring manner in which President Zuma is running South Africa.

What about the self-denial and exemplary leadership demonstrated by Nelson Mandela to be emulated by those at the helm of affairs? Has his self-sacrifice gone to vain even as he gropes about in the twilight of his life?

Yet, this President Zuma quickly snuggles to Madiba Mandela, especially in his frail health situation, just to prove that he is still imbued with the nationalist spirit that has occasioned the activities of the ANC since its formation in 1912. Jacob Zuma is a classic example of the leader that South Africa doesn’t need at this time, especially not before Nelson Mandela passes on.

He is the only democratically elected President in the world with 7 “legitimate” wives, married according to tradition and custom. Apparently, he has an extra-ordinarily high libido that sends him in all directions for the ultimate that he can’t ever satisfy. Now, he has gone beyond reasonable bounds. Shameful.

He and King Mswati, III of Swaziland, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, have set unenviable records for which they stand condemned. Forget about the peculiarities of their ethnic group’s norms on marriage. They don’t spend their own resources sustaining their out-of-control lifestyles. Now that their appetites have spiraled out of control, they endanger the very system that they head.

Marrying so many women and spending state resources on them is inexplicable and unjustifiable. It is an atrocity against the people to be punished, an insult that must be met with the contempt it deserves.

Much so for Jacob Zuma, knowing that much about his background. Beyond the libidinal range, his interests in material things give him away as a traitor of the ANC’s cause. I say so without any reservation but with a lot of misgivings against a President whose machinations led to the removal of his predecessor (Thabo Mbeki) from office under dubious circumstances. Talk about his bribery and corruption trial too.

Considering the context within which he ascended to the highest office of the land, one expects him to exercise his power judiciously to improve conditions in the country. One expects him to outdo his predecessor(s) and make a positive difference in life for the millions of South Africans (especially the African natives who have over the centuries been deprived of decent living standards just because they lack the clout to determine governance). The contrary is stunning.

The recent mineworkers’ agitations, the rumpus within the ANC itself, leading to the dismissal of the youth leader (Julius Malema), the disquiet at the labour front because of low remunerations, the high crime rate, and near despondency in the citizenry suggest that not much is being done under President Zuma’s watch to solve the problems that the ANC has focused on as a justification for its quest for power.

So, where do we stand as far as President Zuma’s leadership style is concerned? Nowhere admirable. His is a sad commentary on self-governance gone awry. Unless he seeks intelligence to redirect his efforts toward better things to improve his own personal standing and straighten the line of governance, he risks plunging the ANC into turmoil. And South Africa itself will be at the crossroads!

The ANC breakaway faction might not have made gains at the previous elections but it did send a disturbing signal across that the fault lines in the ANC are deepening. Such fault lines cannot be sealed with the sordid examples being set by Jacob Zuma and those supporting his self-gratification.

For as long as he turns to self-acquisition instead of a level-headed use of national resources and political power, the time bomb that his rise to power has set will continue to tick off toward a disastrous end. And when that moment strikes, no one should blame the European colonizers or Apartheid for the doom.

The power given the African nationalists is being misused. There are many Jacob Zumas all over the place. And it is a curse to have them in charge of national affairs.

I shall return…

The opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views or have the endorsement of the Editorial Board of, and