A leading South African player speaks on the earth-shaking imprisonment of an ‘African big man, former president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma
I realise that by calling this press conference to speak about what is happening in Nkandla, I am rushing in where angels fear to tread. Political leaders have wisely been circumspect in speaking on the Constitutional Court judgment against former President Zuma, knowing that this has the potential to divide the country. But what is happening in Nkandla right now has the potential to do much greater harm.
As someone who has served my country for more than sixty years, I dare not keep silent. I love my country too much to see its future destroyed. I therefore speak today not as a politician or even as traditional Prime Minister to the Zulu Monarch and Nation, but as one of the few remaining elders in our country.
Let me state upfront that I sympathise with Mr Zuma’s family in this difficult time. Any lawyer would have known the consequences awaiting the former President if he refused to comply with the Constitutional Court’s order to appear at the State Capture Commission. Mr Zuma’s lawyers let him down and he is now facing the consequences. I am not judging his case, but I sympathise with his plight, for he is still an elder facing a very difficult prospect.
This is not the first time that a leader in our country has faced imprisonment, or worse. History provides us with many examples. But history also shows us how those leaders acted in the face of trial – even unjust trial – and how their people acted in response. What is happening in Nkandla right now runs contrary to our dignity as a people. We are making ourselves a spectacle in the eyes of the world.
When the Zulu Kingdom was vanquished by the British on the 4th of July 1879, my great grandfather, King Cetshwayo, was arrested and exiled. The Zulu Nation was at the height of its power. Indeed, it had taken the full might of Her Britannic Majesty’s army to defeat the Zulu Nation; an army greater than that used to conquer the whole of India.
Yet when King Cetshwayo was arrested and sent into exile, neither the King’s regiments nor his people threatened a physical uprising, for it would have been hopeless and ended in utter destruction.
King Cetshwayo’s son, my maternal grandfather, walked in the same steps as his father. King Dinuzulu was found guilty of high treason in 1889 and was exiled by the British to the Island of St Helena. The Zulu regiments were mighty at that time, but the King submitted himself willingly to arrest, like his father. There was no uprising.
My paternal grandfather, Mkhandumba Buthelezi, was accused on trumped up charges of murder and sentenced to be hanged, despite the fact that there was no corpus delicti. The alleged body was never found.
Because of the absence of a body, the then Minister of Justice, JBM Hertzog, recommended a reprieve. But the Governor General, Lord Gladstone, followed the recommendation of the Judge President and Mkhandumba was executed on the 22nd of February 1911.
The real reason behind this was that my grandfather had participated at Isandlwana where the British were routed, and he had survived. He had to pay for those sins. It was unjust; but still there was no uprising.
My grandfather, Mkhandumba’s father, Mnyamana Buthelezi, served as traditional Prime Minister to the King and the Zulu Nation. Under King Cetshwayo, he served as Commander-in-Chief of all the mighty Zulu Regiments.
Kgoshi Mampuru II of the Bapedi Nation, one of South Africa’s heroes in the wars of resistance, was also charged with rebellion and murder and was brutally hanged in Pretoria, despite President Kruger’s assurances that sentence would not be carried out until he had discussed the matter with the British Colonial Secretary, Lord Derby.
There was more unity then among our people than there is today, yet still they did not indulge in an exercise of futility. There was no uprising.
Neither did our people revolt, despite being more powerful and united than we are at present, when the King was charged with high treason in the last armed struggle against colonialism, ignited by the Bambatha Rebellion in 1905.
And in 1964, when we were deprived of the cream of our liberation leaders, Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Sisulu and the other Rivonia trialists, we did not contemplate a physical revolt.
With all of this history, I am troubled by what is happening at Nkandla. It is simply wrong. Our people there are challenging the State and in so doing they are challenging all of us who are guided by the rule of law.
But there is a second sin being committed at Nkandla, for those who are gathering are doing so at a time when our country faces the worst variant of the Coronavirus. We know that the protocols of social distancing and wearing face masks are more important measures to secure our survival than even the jabs that people are receiving.
Yet when one watches the people congregating at Nkandla, there is barely a face mask in sight. They are jeopardizing their lives, and the lives of every one of us in whose midst they are living. That is the greatest irresponsibility of all.
I appeal therefore, in this time of great reflection for our nation, that we consider what is going on at Nkandla as treasonous. With all due respect for the sympathy people may have for Mr Zuma’s plight, challenging the State and risking lives is unacceptable.
As one of the few remaining leaders of the generation who fought for freedom, I fear that God will judge me harshly if I keep silent as people destroy this country’s future. They are creating a future of poverty and death for the youth of South Africa. I dare not keep silent.