Finally, Zuma’s boundless hubris carries him to the end of the road
The litigation strategy known as the “Stalingrad defence” is named for the city on the Volga River in southern Russia in which Germany and her allies besieged the Soviet Union’s Red Army in 1942, but were subsequently defeated in a devastating and protracted series of close-combat battles.
Stalingrad was the site of the Wehrmacht’s most catastrophic defeat during World War 2. The battle — which lasted five months, one week and three days and cost almost 2-million lives — was a major turning point in the fortunes of Adolf Hitler and the Axis powers, one which led to their eventual defeat by the Allied forces.
The expression alludes to the prolonged and debilitating nature of the siege at Stalingrad, a consequence of Hitler’s refusal to sanction an attempted break-out by the 6th Army unit of the Wehrmacht once it had been completely surrounded by the Soviets. Instead, the unit was ordered to remain in place and hold the city at all costs, while the Luftwaffe mounted a chaotic and ultimately fruitless effort to airlift the supplies necessary to sustain the 6th while it awaited reinforcements.
The Red Army successfully repelled the Nazis’ efforts to seize the city and over two months of heavy fighting wore down the 6th Army’s defences, leading to the unit’s surrender in February 1943.
Jacob Zuma and his legal advisers may have believed themselves cleverly to be implementing the Soviets’ strategy when they attempted endlessly to delay Zuma’s day in court. But this week’s landmark Constitutional Court ruling that the former president is in contempt of court for his refusal to appear before the Zondo commission has shown decisively that his position now better resembles that of the Nazis.
The 15-month sentence he faces reveals the desperate corner into which Zuma has painted himself.
Like Hitler before him, Zuma was determined to hold onto his “Stalingrad position” at all costs. Yet now he finds himself starved of state resources with which to settle his mounting legal bills, staring down the barrel of a roughly year-long prison sentence for his ill-considered refusal to appear before the commission and instead launch a series of vitriolic public attacks on the integrity of both the judiciary and the commission’s chair.
But a functional criminal justice system led by a robust judiciary at every level is always ready to engage in the “long game”. As long as these organs of state retain their institutional integrity, no denying tactics under the sun will prevent the road running out for the former president and his fellow kleptocrats.
The truth is that Zuma was always doomed by his own exceptional hubris.
His arrogance prevented him from realising that he is actually not “untouchable”, as he seems to believe; that South Africans are perfectly ready to see him incarcerated for his crimes; and that his most belligerent supporters are those who have no hope of enjoying patronage and political protection from the current leadership of the ANC, and must instead throw their lot in with him, lest they be subjected to similar legal and judicial scrutiny for their part in the state capture feeding frenzy.
With Zuma uncloaked and lacking both power and allies as the illusion of his dominance wanes, South Africans finally have the opportunity to move on to more important national matters than his inevitable legal travails — including surviving an earth-shattering pandemic, and rebuilding the country and its institutions, which he spent over 15 years ransacking for personal gain.
As long as these organs of state retain their institutional integrity, no denying tactics under the sun will prevent the road running out for the former president and his fellow kleptocrats
There is no better way for SA to move on than to see him face the consequences of his actions through the relentless work of an increasingly well-oiled criminal justice system.
Of course, the empty threats and political spectacle will continue — they are the last weapons in the former president’s arsenal of fear-mongering. But as his foundation issues frothing media statements and his children act out their delusions of grandeur on social media, remember the reports in a KwaZulu-Natal daily newspaper earlier this week that only 10 people showed up for a pro-Zuma protest in Durban on Wednesday. The crowd was so small that it did not violate alert level 4 regulations that public gatherings be limited to 50 people or fewer.
We should not be distracted, either, by the ANC’s decision to postpone this weekend’s national executive committee meeting as national officials are “mindful of the situation in KwaZulu-Natal”. For a political party that has suffered severe electoral losses as a consequence of protecting Zuma, and which must also face a local government election in the middle of a health and economic crisis later this year, Zuma is ultimately expendable.
We need actually to see Jacob Zuma go to jail in order to put paid to the myth peddled by his supporters over two decades that his arrest will bring about the rapture.
We will wake up the following morning. The sun will rise, and later that day it will just as surely set.