Former US President Ronald Reagan was called by his detractors “the Teflon president”. The nickname was coined by Patricia Schroeder, a Congresswoman, and reflected on how a plethora of scandals surrounding his presidency seemed to have no effect on his individual popularity with the public.
It seems the same goes with President Jacob Zuma of South Africa.
Regardless of the scale of the scandal President Zuma always seems to bounce back. At least history says so.
In 2005 when his business associate and friend Schabir Shaik was found guilty of corruption and sentenced to 15 years in prison, the assumption was Zuma would go. Many said his political career was over but they were wrong.
The following year in December he was dragged to court on charges of raping an HIV-positive female friend, but he was cleared of all the charges.
In 2007 he came back to power but his victory was short-lived.
The Scorpions charged him with over 700 counts of fraud and racketeering linked to the 1999 arms deal. And as a result, he was fired by President Thabo Mbeki.
Scorpions, also called the Directorate of Special Operations (DSO), were a multidisciplinary agency that investigated and prosecuted organised crime and corruption.
Zuma then ran for the ANC presidency. He took on former friend and President Mbeki for control of their political party. It so happened that weeks before the country’s 2009 General Elections, the corruption charges against Zuma were withdrawn paving the way for him to become the President of the Republic.
But the drama continued. In 2010 Zuma confirmed that he had fathered a child with Sonono Khoza, the 39-year-old daughter of his friend Irvin Khoza. He also survived the Marikana massacre in 2012 wherein 34 people were killed after police opened fire on striking miners at the South African mine.
In 2013 when his friends Guptas landed a private jet at the Air Force base ‘illegally’, Zuma again survived the public outcry. The decision to sack a well-respected Nhlanhla Nene as Finance Minister caused the rand to plummet. And now Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas’ startling revelations that Guptas are personally making cabinet appointments, will Zuma survive this latest scandal?
Jonas said the Gupta family had offered him former finance minister Nene’s job shortly before Zuma abruptly dismissed Nene in December 2015. He had turned it down.
Pressure on Zuma intensified when former cabinet spokesman Themba Maseko told the Sunday Times newspaper that the President asked him in a 2010 phone call to meet the Guptas at their home in Johannesburg and to “please help them”.
However, South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress, said on Sunday it had full confidence in President Zuma after a three-day party summit but took aim at the powerful Gupta family accused of wielding inappropriate influence over his government.
Gwede Mantashe, the ANC secretary-general, said: “Such actions can have no place in the ANC or its government as they have the potential to undermine and erode the credibility and confidence of our people in the leadership of their organisation, the ANC and its government. We reject the notion of any business or family group seeking such influence over the ANC with the contempt it deserves.”
The Gupta brothers – Rajesh, Ajay and Atul – who moved from India to South Africa in the 1990s, have been accused of influencing cabinet appointments and enjoying favourable access to state contracts. Guptas have a multibillion rand business empire that stretches across media, mining, computing and engineering. Zuma’s son, Duduzane, is a shareholder in a number of Guptas’ companies.
However, Guptas have denied any wrongdoings.
“We are business people and we have nothing to do with politics,” said Ajay Gupta, in a rare interview to Financial Times.
President Zuma also denied the allegation in Parliament. An in-house investigation too cleared him.