1 September 2014

South Africa: The Great Unspooling - How the Spy Tapes Came to Define Jacob Zuma


Last week, the Democratic Alliance won a major victory in court: Zuma's lawyers must release the so-called Spy Tapes, which they say will reveal that he should never have been exonerated of corruption charges five years ago. But there is a larger, more poignant metaphor in all this. RICHARD POPLAK explains.

In the far-flung future, when the four-volume biography of Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma is published, it will tell the story of an unspooling. If the books are good, they will relate the unravelling of the man. But more importantly, they will describe the unspooling of this country. Once, not so long ago, we owned a narrative. But as the past rolls languidly away from the future, South Africa's truth uncoils into gentle susurrations of nothingness--endless hours of whispering into the void.

President Zuma, we're told, remains untroubled by the routine controversies that have buffeted his career. I don't believe that to be true. On 9 May of this year, when I saw him walk into the Independent Electoral Commission to acknowledge the fact that he was once again president of the Republic of South Africa, I saw that he was sick. I suppose we're all decaying, but Zuma appeared to...

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