ANALYSIS: Did Zuma ruin not only SA, but also Libya, for greed?
He needs to explain his puzzling flip-flopping during the final days of the Gaddafi regime in 2011
To fully appreciate the seriousness of this weekend’s report that an estimated $30m of Libyan money had allegedly been stashed in former president Jacob Zuma’s bunker at Nkandla, it is necessary to look back at the events of 2011 when Muammar Gaddafi was killed.
The Sunday Times reported that Gaddafi had given Zuma the money, asking him to use it for legal representation for him in the event of him being charged at the International Criminal Court, or to give it to his family if he was killed.
That, apparently, did not happen and the report says the money had recently been secretly moved to Swaziland to launder it.
Gaddafi’s fall from power and brutal killing is a cautionary tale for any leader who thinks they are invincible. He ruled his country for 42 years, during which time he amassed enormous wealth and aspired to be the president of the “United States of Africa”.
But fate turned on him, as did the people of Libya. Gaddafi’s life ended in a gruesome and humiliating way.
Protests amid the Arab Spring descended into civil war. Nato intervened militarily, backing the anti-Gaddafi forces, and the self-styled “Brother Leader” fled to his home town of Sirte.
In October 2011, Gaddafi was found by the rebels hiding in drainpipe under a highway. He was eventually shot dead and his battered body put on display.
Gaddafi had not maintained even the pretence of democracy, but the violent rebellion and military intervention, his demise and the constant instability in the country, up to this week, was not a desirable outcome.
It is therefore a blight on SA that our government contributed to all this. The Sunday Times report raises more questions about the role of former president Jacob Zuma in what happened.
A week before Gaddafi’s killing, Zuma made a rather shocking statement that the African Union (AU) would work better without the Libyan leader.
“The African Union will have more time to implement its programmes now, because Colonel Gaddafi spent a lot of time discussing a unity government for Africa that was impossible to implement now,” Zuma said in a speech. “I had arguments with him about it several times. The African Union will work better now without his delaying it and with some members no longer feeling as intimidated by him as they did.”
This statement added to the controversy over SA’s role in the Libyan turmoil.
Zuma was among five African leaders appointed by the AU to intervene in the crisis. But he also gave the go-ahead in the UN Security Council to authorise the military intervention in Libya.
A report by the Institute for Security Studies on what happened between SA and Libya during the 2011 uprising noted that it was unprecedented for Pretoria to approve Western military action against a fellow African country – particularly when it was engaged in mediation.
“Then South Africa appeared to reverse its position by condemning the military coalition bombing Libya – for allegedly distorting the mandate of Resolution 1973 by trying to topple Gaddafi instead of remaining neutral and just protecting civilians,” the ISS report said. Zuma also accused Nato of deliberately thwarting the AU’s peace initiative.
The ISS report also probed a clash between Zuma and Mahmoud Jibril, the 2011 head of Libya’s National Transitional Council.
The leak of then US secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s e-mails revealed that Jibril had told Clinton’s aides that he had accused Zuma of making Nelson Mandela feel ashamed.
Jibril later confirmed this to the ISS, explaining that the reason for his attack on Zuma was due to the former president’s flip-flopping during the mediation process. He said Zuma had agreed that Gaddafi would have to give up power if outright war was to be avoided and that this would be proposed as part of the AU peace plan.
After Zuma travelled to Libya to meet Gaddafi at the end of May 2011, Jibril says he received a call to meet him at his private flat in Durban. He cut short a visit to China and travelled 22 hours to meet Zuma.
“We discovered a completely different Zuma in Durban. His position had changed radically since our previous meeting. Gaddafi had put pressure on him,” Jibril told the ISS. Zuma apparently insisted that Gaddafi himself should be part of the transitional government.
Jibril said he was very angry and vowed never to visit SA again as long as Zuma was in power.Jibril told the ISS that Zuma’s government could “make it up” to the Libyan people by returning to them the billions of dollars of money and gold bullion, which he said Gaddafi stashed away in SA.Follow the moneyThe Libyans have long claimed that a fortune of cash, gold and diamonds are hidden in SA.In 2013, the national treasury said that in line with UN rules, it would repatriate almost R10bn stashed in the country by Gaddafi. These were assets placed in SA by the Libya Investment Authority, the Libya Africa Investment Portfolio and the Libya Africa Investment Company, and held by four local banks and two security companies.The question now is whether it is true that during Zuma’s bout of shuttle diplomacy in 2011, Gaddafi trusted him with a huge pile of cash for safekeeping. If so, how much did this influence SA’s interventions and decision-making at the time?Did Zuma renege on the AU peace plan because of the money Gaddafi had given him?Even more disturbing, why did Zuma turn on Gaddafi when the Libyan leader had been a steadfast ally of the ANC, pre and post liberation?If the allegation about the money being shifted from Nkandla to Swaziland turns out to be true, the former president can be indicted for breaking a number of laws, including taking cash out of a country that was under international sanctions by the UN Security Council, among others.
Like all his questionable actions, Zuma has never sought to explain his role in the Libyan crisis. The allegation that he has been harbouring money given to him by Gaddafi makes this saga even more sordid.
Zuma’s only response has been via a tweet saying he hears that “I have been keeping money belonging to my late brother Gaddafi. Where’s this money because His Majesty (King Mswati) knows nothing about it.”
But Zuma owes SA and the Libyan people a more detailed explanation. His actions and statements on Libya make absolutely no sense. He compromised SA’s position as a credible broker in the conflict and created suspicion and animosity among other African nations.
The best-case scenario was that this was clumsiness on Zuma’s part. The alternative theory, that he acted out of financial interest and greed, is too ghastly to contemplate.