There was a threatening look about former president Jacob Zuma when he appeared in front of Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo at the judicial commission of inquiry on Monday.
Normally affable and gregarious – even when facing the most dire of situations – Zuma strode purposefully to the witness table in the hall on the fourth floor of Tiso Blackstar’s Empire building in Parktown shortly before the hearing began. There were few smiles and no levity.
Surrounded by six, seven, eight presidential protectors, he glided past the media and sat down, while his legal team of lawyer Daniel Mantsha, who helped secure state arms manufacturer for the Guptas, and advocate Muzi Sikhakane, whose report into SARS helped sink its investigations unit, took their seats.
His supporters decked out the public gallery from early.
Carl Niehaus, who lied about his mother having died, seemingly to evade creditors, sat next to Des van Rooyen, who before he was appointed finance minister for four days in December 2015 was an anonymous and inconsequential ANC backbencher.
They were joined by the former president’s twins Duduzane and Duduzile Zuma, with the former taking time to take selfies with admirers.
Shortly after, ANC spokespersons Pule Mabe and Dakota Legoete arrived and took their seats behind Niehaus and Van Rooyen, who sat in the same row as Supra Mahumapelo.
He was forced out as premier of the North West Province, a key member of the so-called “premier league” and close ally of Ace Magashule, the ANC’s secretary general, considered a state capture kingpin in his own right.
It was all neatly rounded off by Faith Muthambi, who, as communications minister under Zuma, shared confidential information with the Guptas, Zuma’s “friends and comrades” (as he described them).
‘So help me God’
Zuma’s testimony was menacing, threatening.
He took the oath at 10:32, confirming that he considers his testimony to be binding on his conscience. And he swore that what he said will be the truth, “so help me God”.
He spoke in sweeping narratives about conspiracies and plots to remove him from the political stage dating back to 1990, saying that he became aware of a plot to “character assassinate” him.
Zuma’s testimony was about one thing: he signaled his intent to his political opponents that he has no qualms about following a scorched earth policy. He cast himself as the victim, as the target of his enemies and the victim of a system.
But he has some cards to play, yet.
When he became aware of the plot against him in the 1990s, he deduced it was because of the knowledge he had about spies who infiltrated the ANC. The plot was driven by two foreign intelligence organisations in conjunction with a local organisation. He didn’t name them.
As he explained this, he sat forward in his chair, looking at Zondo, and animatedly used his hands and pointed his fingers to emphasise his argument: “These spies were inflitrated into the organisation, and they wanted to nurture and grow them, so that, at one point they could lead [the ANC].”
It could have been anyone: Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, Cyril Ramaphosa, He didn’t say. It was just left hanging.
But he did finger Ngoako Ramathlodi, the former minster of public service and administration and mineral resources, twice appointed to Cabinet by Zuma, as a spy recruited in Lesotho. Ramathlodi has denied the charge and challenged Zuma to take a lie detector test.
Names of spies
Later on he waved around a piece of paper, telling Zondo he has a list with the names of spies.
And being branded a collaborator or askari is the very worst accusation that can be leveled against someone in the liberation movement.
In the 1980s this often led to death by necklacing.
And although he said he was trained well, that he won’t be “reckless” with the information he has, the message was clear: the time to reveal all that he knows has come.
“I have been provoked … yes, I’ve got the list, and there’s another list as well, its not the business of me to deal with it here … I have always been respectful of comrades, but now I’ve maybe reached a point where that must take a backseat … they concoct everything just to deal with Zuma,” he told Zondo.
Zuma is using his appearance at the commission to ensure that his former comrades and friends know exactly what he will do if his persecution continues.
He will leave nothing behind. He will burn the ANC and cripple government if this continues.
Because he knows things.