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No Bed For Old Man: Jacob Zuma’s Prison Experience As Revealed By Arthur Fraser, South Africa’s Former Prison Boss

Revelations by former head of Correctional Services Arthur Fraser provide a vivid portrait of the former president dressed in standard orange prison overalls (or lemoen sakkies as we say in the Western Cape) being told to make his bed and clean his cell.

Those familiar with the English language will know the idiom “you’ve made your bed, now lie in it”. The Cambridge dictionary online unpacks it thus: “said to someone who must accept the unpleasant results of something they have done”.

(By the way, Nelson Mandela made his bed every day, literally. In jail and in freedom.)

Zuma’s unwise attempted private prosecution of News24 journalist Karyn Maughan for making public his “medical condition” in the course of a high court challenge of his early release on parole, has revealed what might be driving the former head of state’s desperate bid to stay out of jail.

Advocate Billy Downer, the State’s lead prosecutor in Zuma’s epic Arms Deal corruption trial was also served with a notice of private prosecution by the ex-president for allegedly “leaking” doctors’ reports to Maughan.

But Zuma’s dark night of the soul, which began at 1h45 on 8 July 2021 alone in his jail cell at the Estcourt Correctional Centre, has been exposed for all to see. It is there in court papers filed to keep the ANC veteran among the citizens, a free man.

Jacob Zuma and his key enabler, former State Security Agency head, Arthur Fraser, stand at the final frontier in their collapsed political project. They will do what they must to keep Zuma out of prison. 

Never, never and never again.

Backed into a corner, Zuma and Fraser have now weaponised the 79-year-old former president’s health.

It was Fraser, the Zondo Commission and other investigations have heard, who ran Zuma’s private multimillion-rand secret service which kept the president and his friends flush with illicit public funds and in power as a faction in the governing party for over a decade.

However, President Cyril Ramaphosa opted to keep Fraser in the system, sliding him over as National Commissioner of Correctional Services – where Zuma and many other ANC leaders implicated in large scale corruption are headed sooner or later.

There was no way Fraser’s boss was going to serve 15 months in jail regardless of how new or welcoming the facility and how decent the constitutional democracy that has protected Zuma’s rights at every legal twist and turn.

It was in Fraser’s capacity as keeper of the keys to all the country’s overfull  jails that he became determined to get the former president out of the Estcourt Correctional Centre, come hell or high water. 

Hell and High Water 

Both came to KZN.

First, Hell in July 2021 when, after refusing to testify to the Zondo Commission and having been found guilty of contempt of court, Zuma finally found himself in that jail cell, a convict. 

By then he had been forced to obey the law and the Constitution and had to be coaxed out of his Nkandla home like an angry, hand-reared viper hiding under a rock. 

All this in full view of the public as TV cameras and journalists flocked to the former president’s rural home in KZN to capture the historic moment.

Zuma’s being held to account that July 2021 came at great cost to the citizens of South Africa, particularly KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. 

The externalisation of the now ex-president’s rage manifested outside the walls of the Escort prison as an inferno was unleashed by the political zombies, including family members brandishing metaphorical torches and pitchforks on Twitter.

The police, gutted by Zuma and his borer beetle state capturers for more than a decade, stood by, helpless, like scholar patrol on a busy four-lane, big-city highway. Crime Intelligence was asleep at the wheel. The horror show was inevitable. It was planned. It was Zuma’s horror show.

It was a fury unleashed that cost the lives of more than 350 South Africans and wiped R50-billion from the region’s economy as trucks, businesses, malls and warehouses burned in the night. Citizens turned on each other with machetes and guns as spasms of violence rolled across KZN. 

The devastating flood came later in April 2022. Parts of KZN, Zuma’s home ground, collapsed and was washed away during the heavy rains. At least 459 people died in the climatic catastrophe.

King Arthur plays his cards 

Back in 2021 Fraser, making full use of Ramaphosa’s decision to allow him to bang around state institutions and the ANC’s decomposing mother body for a while longer, delivered in August 2022 what the security head and others opposed to Ramaphosa hope will be a final body blow to the frail governing party.

Phala Phala. 

It was Fraser who was first to reveal that there had been a break in at Ramaphosa’s private game farm in February 2020 in which US dollars in cash were stolen and that the president had allegedly tried to conceal.

Ramaphosa has, ever since, been hounded by a posse of opposition parties, parliament, the now suspended Public Protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, and assorted other “haters” who are determined to see the current president account before the ANC’s next elective conference in December 2022.

Meanwhile, old apartheid National Party leaders must be clinking ceramic mugs of mampoer down in hell. 

Thank you Arthur Fraser. The ANC is almost a goner.

Insights into Zuma’s darkest hour

Our insight as citizens into Zuma’s darkest moment in his political life comes via Fraser..

In the prison head’s submissions to a high court challenge by the Democratic Alliance, the Helen Suzman Foundation and AfriForum of his granting of medical parole, Fraser attached papers by Nompumelelo Radebe, an employee at the Estcourt prison.

We are provided, through Fraser and Radebe, with a vivid and pathetic portrait of the former president, dressed in prison overalls being told to make his own bed and clean his own cell. 

Radebe noted that Zuma, after being “admitted” that fateful night, had been informed of the “stipulated time for unlocking of cells and lock-up. Mr Zuma was further informed that he will have to make his bed and clean his cell,” she told the court.

For Jacob Zuma, the shock encounter with the cold, hard hand of accountability must have been severe, the experience striping him of any notion that he was still powerful and beyond the law.

The fiction and inflated sense of of self-importance surely drained slowly as reality bit hard.

The former president, Radebe tells us, was issued with “two pairs of offender uniforms and toiletries” and “an immediate medical assessment had been conducted”.

On 10 July, two days after his incarceration, Radebe reported, “I noticed Zuma does not make up his bed nor clean his cell as expected.”

She escalated the matter to her superiors. 

When asked why he “failed to make up his bed and cleaning of the cell [sic], Mr Zuma indicated that he was not feeling well and he often feels weak and unable to make up his bed or clean his cell”.

The nursing staff were then “guided” to do the domestic work for the former president.

Here is Msholozi who has literally headed an unaccountable and criminal personality cult in the ANC. A polygamous Zulu patriarch, a man who occupied the apex position in the country now being ordered (ordered being the operative word) to perform tasks generally viewed in this world as “women’s” work.

On 21 July, the operational manager of nursing at the prison registered several concerns about Zuma’s physical state, said Radebe. From her description the former president was not looking good. Pale, grey, eyes red, weak, unable to get up, his feet swelling.

The following day, Fraser explained in his affidavit, Zuma submitted an application for compassionate leave to attend his brother’s funeral, an application that had been approved. The convict former president “was released in the early hours of the 22 July 2021 and returned the same day”.

The day after that, Zuma’s health took a dip, says Fraser, and a team of military doctors had recommended that the former president “be referred to an outside hospital”.

On 4 August Zuma was transferred to a “tertiary medical facility” – the Pretoria Heart Hospital – “as a matter of urgency”. 

It was there that “attending physicians” prepared a report and request for Zuma to be placed on medical parole.

What we also know. courtesy of Fraser, is that Zuma was taken to Mediclinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria where he received 24-hour medical care. 

On his release, he recuperated at the R5.2-million Waterkloof Ridge home of his wife Bongi Ngema (paid for by the Gupta family) before heading off for the rural tranquillity of KZN.

Zuma’s medical documents, said Fraser, had been “classified and marked confidential”.

It is the letters by Dr L J Mphatswe, a member of the Medical Parole Advisory Board (MPAB), as well as that of the former president’s personal physician Dr QSM Mafa, that Zuma now claims were leaked to Maughan.

These were, in fact, attached to documents filed with the court and are public.

And while both these doctors’ letters were almost entirely blacked out, more details appear in Mphatswe’s report on the president’s health than any journalist in South Africa has ever revealed.

It is for this reason that Maughan has applied to the Pietermaritzburg High Court to interdict Zuma from prosecuting her privately. Maughan has argued that the summons by Zuma is “unlawful, vexatious and a gross abuse of the process of court”.

It had been obtained “for the ulterior purpose of intimidating and harassing me and preventing me from freely doing my job as a journalist reporting on Mr Zuma’s criminal trial”.

Strike one in this matter should already be that Zuma has not obtained a nolle prosequi certificate from the Director of Public Prosecutions which legally entitles him to institute a private prosecution against Maughan, as required under section 7(2)(a) of the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA) 51 of 1977.

End of story.

Zuma’s moment of truth 

There is no doubt his time in jail as a convict had an immediate and profound impact on Zuma’s health and state of mind. 

Of course it would.

Accountability can be like a punch in the solar plexus of a sleeping conscience.

A plunge into deep depression is the most expected human response in circumstances where lady justice comes knocking so loudly at your door.

Oscar Pistorius tipped into the darkness of depression after he was held accountable for the violent murder of Reeva Steenkamp. Gangster Radovan Krejcir complained of suffering from “nightmares, depression and dizziness” the minute the keys turned.

It goes like that. You do the crime, you do the time. Eventually. Even if fleetingly so.

Most prisoners face a moment of truth when the doors clang shut, the keys jangle in the lock and the lights go out. 

For Fraser it was imperative that Zuma be removed from that reality and never confront the possibility again in his remaining lifetime.

The prisons’ boss had manoeuvred to override a medical parole board’s finding and had set Zuma free. The DA and HSF challenged the legality of Fraser’s move in the high court and won. 

The only matter left to be considered now is whether Zuma will serve the time he spent outside on medical parole back inside jail. Estcourt is not a place that can cater for Zuma’s health needs, Fraser has suggested.

He told the court “Zuma is a former Head of State of the Republic of South Africa and since the advent of democracy, that is 1994 (and even prior thereto), there has never been a situation where a former Head of State has been incarcerated”.

It was, he said, “an unprecedented situation” forgetting that it is one brought by the president and his supporters on themselves and the ANC. 

The former president is, after all, a man who, in his heart, deeply believes that the constitution is a liberal crock of white monopoly bullshit enslaving and holding back the masses. 

The private glimpse Radebe and Fraser bring to beleaguered citizens of Zuma’s first night in the slammer might at first provoke schadenfreude, that toe-curling German description of the feeling of delight many of us at first experience on learning of the woes of others, especially if they have brought these upon themselves.

Fraser said he had taken control considering “events that occurred in the month of July  2021 and specifically around the period when Third Respondent [Zuma] was incarcerated, there was public unrests [sic] and destruction of property as well as the ongoing heightened public interest in any matter related to Third Respondent”.

He had instructed that all matters surrounding the incarceration and care of Zuma were decisions “that should be done in consultation with myself as the National Commissioner.”

As a result, said King Arthur “I decided to exercise my authority”.

But Zuma is a sick and broken, old man. 

Mmusi Maimane was right way back then.

And Jacob Zuma saw this in the mirror at Estcourt. It was what we too have seen in him and the mirror he holds up to us and the destruction of his decade-long rotten incumbency.

But, we should not gain any joy or pleasure from Zuma’s ill health or slow demise behind bars.

For as much as he has caused suffering to so many in South Africa, leading State Capture, literally selling the country’s assets to a bunch of sado-capitalists, we ourselves can show him some backbone, some humanity.

Let him spend his last days at Nkandla, the house we built, reflecting on his self-made fall into ignominy. Those who once held him so high though, might be doing so behind bars, unlike Msholozi. Daily Maverick

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