Gigaba’s calculated display of support for Zuma at the Pietermaritzburg High Court

Jacob Zuma’s court appearances usually attract a mixed bag of misfits, political speculators, opportunists and the usual hangers-on. His latest appearance at the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Wednesday, 26 May, was no different.

But it is worth noting that, unlike the crowd that gathered on the last court date on 17 May, Wednesday’s gathering was much bigger – in size as well as the range of ANC leaders standing beside Zuma. The stage was literally larger than the last one: a concert-type setup decked with a flowing image of Zuma and mounted speakers. This time it seemed the Zuma support machinery was better organised than on 17 May.

Zuma was in court for his long-running fraud, corruption, tax evasion and racketeering case – in relation to the alleged R500,000 bribe that his former financial advisor, Schabir Shaik, negotiated on Zuma’s behalf.

As expected, there at the court were the usual faces: suspended ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule, former North West premier Supra Mahumapelo, and the uMkhonto weSizwe Veterans’ Association’s Carl Niehaus. Also in attendance were KwaZulu-Natal provincial ANC leaders, chairman and Premier Sihle Zikalala and provincial secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli – in line with their in-principle support of Zuma as a former ANC leader.

The unexpected appearance was that of former finance minister Malusi Gigaba. But it’s not surprising, given Gigaba’s own dilemmas. His estranged wife Norma Mngoma has been singing like a canary at the State Capture Commission, painting a picture of a spendthrift Gigaba who lived off the largesse of the corrupt Gupta family and owns a sickening 200 suits. It is only a matter of time before law enforcement agencies begin to circle around Gigaba, and he knows this.

To align himself with Zuma is calculated to build his own base. He needs political support.

Yet, also, looking up at the stage in Pietermaritzburg, one could see that it was the platform to set in motion the campaign for the ANC’s 54th Congress in 2022. No, Zuma is not looking for a comeback as party president. His time is done. Rather, for the figures gathered around the courthouse, Zuma is their battering ram in the campaign to unseat Ramaphosa next year.

While the rest of us had fixed our eyes on what Zuma and Magashule are doing, Gigaba has been quietly sanitising his political CV and mending his ways with the Zuma supporters.

They are still bitter about the 2018 interview he gave to international news channel CNN, in which he called on Zuma to “do the right thing” and resign as president of SA.

Last week, Gigaba gave an interview to Independent Newspapers in Durban, in which he sought to adjust the record about that 2018 interview. He suggested that his then position as finance minister made it difficult for him to defend Zuma, but he also intimated that he may have been pressured into doing the CNN interview.

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