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The words of a President: ‘Jacob Zuma Speaks’ book review

By Gugulethu Hughes 

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. View more opinion on ScoonTV. 

Many books have been written about President Jacob Zuma, but not so much about the successes of his administration and the challenges faced. Jacob Zuma Speaks is the first book written about the 4th administration of the country. It’s also the first book endorsed by President Zuma. 

This book is not an autobiography, as hinted by colonial clerks who got lost in the title and used their ignorance to mock the President. It’s also not a work of opinion. Rather, it’s a compilation of the President’s speeches presented in different important events throughout His Excellency’s administration. 

The narrative consistently peddled by enemy agents has been that of a commander and lieutenants who embarked on a journey of plunder, corruption, and maladministration for purposes of self-enrichment. Therefore, it’s important this book be about the 9-year winning streak which benefitted citizens immensely. 

The book doesn’t seek to counter propaganda, nor act as a reactionary measure to “spruce up” the image of President Zuma either. It rather serves as an outline of President Zuma’s administration. 

Published by Porcupine Press, compiled by Kim Heller, with contributions from Professor Sipho Seepe, Themba Mathe, Mam’ Dudu Myeni, and Kim Heller – this book is a must-read for those in pursuit of knowledge and position themselves better to make well informed conclusions about President JG Zuma’s administration.  


The book begins with an excerpt from President Jacob Zuma’s Presidential Inaugural Speech made on May 9th, 2009. It reads, 

“Let us build a nation that remains forever mindful of its history, of those who sacrificed so much, and the many who put down their lives so we can be here today. A nation filled with the laughter and joy of children. A nation filled with a hope born of the knowledge that if we work together, we will achieve our dream.” 

This excerpt sets the tone of the book in presenting ground covered by the Jacob Zuma Administration. 

Dudu Myeni and Themba Mathe provide the foreword which gives the reader a brief introduction to Zuma. Dudu and Themba describe President Zuma as charismatic. He’s rubbed shoulders with other statesmen in an organic fashion that has provided memorable memes. 

The definition of President Zuma is enough to bring the reader into close contact with the man and experience him wholesomely. His demeanour, laughter, easy going nature, and approach to matters before him is what has earned him the support and respect from black people. 

He’s presented as a calculative man. He studies his opponents before making any reaction – a chess master. This is why he has managed to outwit all impediments put on his path. 

The impact he’s made on black politics and people’s lives make him a prime target for outright elimination. His conviction on the radical economic transformation is at the same par with other African greats like Chris Hani, Julius Nyerere, Joshua Nkomo, Samora Machel amongst others. It is his convictions that led to him getting a “criminal” conviction for a civil case. But because of his foresightedness, the biggest story from his imprisonment is how he managed to expose the constitutional democracy’s flaws and the judiciary’s immorality. 

One of the most striking parts of the foreword is the factual presentation of President Zuma’s position on corruption. It’s particularly striking given this is a man advertised globally as the most corrupt person in the world. 

Part of the quote reads, “Those who peddle the narrative that Zuma is corrupt pay no attention to the strong anti-corruption stance he took during his tenure as President. Between 2010 and 2016, Zuma signed a total of 69 Special Investigation Unit proclamations – 10 of these were signed in the 2016/17 financial year alone. Hundreds of millions of rands were recovered as a result. The Zuma government also ratified international instruments that deal with corruption. These include the United Nations Convention against Corruption, and the Southern African Development Community Protocol against Corruption…” 

The way Zuma’s political opponents portray him as a tribalist takes centre stage in the foreword, too. In capturing President Ramaphosa’s reference to the July Unrest in KZN and Gauteng as acts of ethnic mobilisation, Themba and Dudu raise a quote from political economist Moeletsi Mbeki.  

Moeletsi Mbeki is quoted as saying, “In my view, Cyril was targeting whites, the white prejudices, let me say. He wanted to tell the whites that these are Zulu bloodthirsty savages, but he is going to deal with them using the army and the police. Cyril knows how to manipulate the white population; he plays on their prejudices.” 

Mbeki concludes by saying, “How could he accuse Jacob Zuma of ethnic mobilization when he has two men on his team from the Eastern Cape – Dali Mpofu and Mzwanele Manyi? I know Jacob Zuma; I was with him in exile…”. 

This is an opportune moment to point out that President Ramaphosa referred to the July Unrest as acts of ethnic mobilization. More so, his subsequent “encouragement” of vigilante groups led to the genocide on black people committed by Indians. This includes the Indian-owned private security company Reaction Unit South Africa. The genocide is now known as the Phoenix Massacre. To this date, the families who lost their loved ones have not received justice. 

During the July Unrest, journalists sympathetic to President Ramaphosa like J.J. Tabane also called for “concomitant action” against the looters. This was the same language that Cyril Ramaphosa used to assure white mining executives when Lonmin miners protested for wage increases in 2012. The result was 34 miners shot dead and 78 others seriously injured in what is now known as the Marikana Massacre. A pattern soon emerges. 

“Jacob Zuma has an authenticity that could never be scripted, even by the most proficient spin doctors. A case in point is the story of Ontlametse Phalatse, a teenage girl who succumbed to progeria, a rare aging disease. When the President attended the funeral, it was without the usual fanfare or political overture that has become the vulgar, opportunistic, almost vulture-like protocol of so many political leaders…” Themba and Dudu write. 

President Zuma’s authenticity was also seen in Marikana when he went to the scene of the police killings. He engaged directly and paid his condolences to the surviving miners.  


Sipho Seepe and Kim Heller penned the introduction to the book. They sought to deconstruct the misinformation about the Jacob Zuma Administration. They also take stock of the Ramaphosa Administration and, most importantly, journalists’ brazen illogical conduct towards Jacob Zuma. 

The introduction also captures the level of investment in propaganda meant to defame and smear the character of President Zuma prior to his election as President and throughout his tenure. As someone not raised on English tea and Anglo-Saxon scones, the White Monopoly Capital system always viewed Zuma as a threat. 

Kim and Sipho also provide an introductory account to some of the Zuma administration’s achievements. They reference President Zuma’s last comments when he left office about the National Development Plan, introduction of the Basic Education Department, and much more. 

Sipho and Kim finish the introduction with a quote that reads, “The truth is, as the reader will discover in this book, that the ideas of Jacob Zuma are so potent they are threat to the post-apartheid-colonial imprint, and we should not be surprised at the investment in delegitimizing him. There is little doubt, as we pointed out elsewhere, that Jacob Zuma is a mercurial character, difficult to grasp. He often confounds friends as foes. To borrow words from Winston Churchill, he is a “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”  

Part One: The Economy

This first part of the book is the brainchild of Professor Sipho Seepe. He does a good job of taking the reader on a journey through South Africa’s material conditions. 

For the longest time, they’ve remained static in favour of the imperialist colonisers. He presents with prodigious clarity the challenges facing South Africa economically and what is required to address those challenges. Also, he addresses the steps taken by the Zuma administration to address the challenges. 

President Jacob Zuma assumed the office of the President at a time when global economies were taking a beating from the 2008 financial crisis. As Sipho writes, 

“It is both noteworthy and commendable that President Jacob Zuma, even in the face of a financial crisis, took a long-term view of the economy. The Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme, an initiative of his administration, saw South Africa become one of the top investment destinations for renewable energy. A considerable investment in much needed infrastructure development was a core pillar of the Zuma administration and helped rally the flagging economy…” 

A major highlight is the mention of Zuma’s understanding of strategy and geopolitics as a mainstay of any nation’s economy. This manifested in South Africa becoming a member of BRICS and witnessing a sharp rise in Chinese investment in sectors such as banking, mining, and infrastructure. In 2010, China became South Africa’s largest trading partner. 

Sipho Seepe proceeds to ink something profound, “While Zuma’s administration must be judged against the backdrop of a global economic collapse, Mbeki’s performance must be judged against the backdrop of an economic boom.” 

Professor Sipho Seepe then implores the reader to study President Zuma’s 9 Point Plan. The plan covers energy, infrastructure development, agriculture and agro-processing, mineral beneficiation, a higher impact Industrial Policy Action Plan, and small business development. 

According to Seepe, a careful study of this 9-point plan will point us towards self-determination and a radical transformation of the economy. He further posits that the Radical Economic Transformation, a subject of ridicule by clever blacks, was built on previous efforts to restructure the South African economy. More so, its articulation in the ANC January 8th, 2017, Statement, and later by President Zuma, was merely meant to give it practical expression in government. This is how President Zuma defined Radical Economic Transformation. 

“By RET we mean fundamental change in the structure, systems, institutions, and patterns of ownership, management, and control of the economy in favour of all South Africans, especially the poor, the majority of whom are African and female, as defined by the governing party which makes policy for the democratic government… Government will utilize to the maximum, the strategic levers that are available to the State. This includes legislation, regulations, licensing, budget, and procurement as well as Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment charters to influence the behaviour of the private sector and drive transformation. The State spends R500 billion a year buying goods and services. Added to this is the R900 billion infrastructure budget. Those budgets must be used to achieve economic transformation. As a start, the new regulations making it compulsory for big contractors to subcontract 30% of business to black owned businesses…through such regulations and programmes, government will be able to use the State buying power to empower small enterprises, rural and township enterprises, designated groups, and to promote local industrial development.” 

As per structure of the book, excerpts of speeches President Zuma made in different platforms with regards to economic programmes and achievements are compiled and presented accordingly for the reader to formulate an even better understanding of South Africa’s economic situation.  

Part Two: Health

This section of the book is prefaced by both Sipho Seepe and Kim Heller. It will never be contested that one of the best health programs implemented in this world was Zuma’s HIV/AIDS Antiretroviral rollout programme in 2009. As put by Kim and Sipho, “Not only was this a game changer in dealing with this pandemic but it was also a lifesaving and life altering announcement for millions of South Africans.” 

President Zuma’s handling of the HIV pandemic comes in stark contrast with President Ramaphosa’s bungling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Of course, HIV/AIDs was not the only focus sector of the Zuma Administration. Other health programs are mentioned in the compiled speeches.  

Part Three: Education

This chapter, prefaced by the meticulous Kim Heller, is about the strides made by the Zuma administration in the Education Sector. While the compiled speeches made by President Zuma provide a clear view of the depth of success, Kim’s choice of dimension in introducing the subject matter is enough to make the reader sympathise and admire President Zuma at the same time. 

Here is a man who is continuously ridiculed for being an uneducated “fool” not fit to lead anyone. Kim quotes the Zuma Biography written by Jeremy Gordin published in 2010, where President Zuma tells the story of how he was supposed to start school at age seven. His grandfather, whose herd boy had gone off somewhere, asked that he rather take care of his cattle. 

Zuma is quoted as saying, “The media always reports that I learned to read in Robben Island. Maybe they think it is romantic… But in fact, I taught myself as a boy in Nkandla and later in the Cator Manor area of Durban where my mother was working.” 

He also says, “Part of the reason I speak about my self-education more these days is that I am trying to encourage those whose circumstances do not allow them to go to school… education is education whether it is formal or not…” 

Afterwards, Heller highlights some achievements in the education sector. This includes the establishment of three new universities, the University of Mpumalanga, Sol Plaatje University, and Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University. 

There is also the increase in student funding by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme in both universities and technical and vocational education and training. Towards the end of his term, President Zuma also announced the introduction of free education. However, its implementation has been thwarted by the current administration.  

Part Four: Law and Justice

Sipho Seepe introduces this section of the book. It’s a necessary chapter as it is the Law and Justice System that has been used to mete out injustices on President Zuma. 

Throughout his political career, the law has mostly been used to prevent Zuma from implementing the principles of Pan Africanism and Radical Economic Transformation. That explains the impotence of the justice system in addressing past injustices. The constitutional democracy has turned out to be a ratification of continued imperialism and colonialism dressed in faux democracy robes. 

President Zuma tried his best to transform the justice system, but its roots are firm in white monopoly capital sponsorship. Professor Seepe quotes President Zuma a month before assuming the highest office in the land in 2009 as saying, 

“If I sit here and look at a Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court, you know, that is the ultimate authority, which I think we need to look at because I don’t think we should have people who are almost like God in a democracy. Why are they not human beings?” 

Later, Professor Seepe refers to a 2021 article by Ziyad Motala, a Professor of Law at Howard School Washington DC. Motala argued that recent judgements of the Constitutional Court smack of “predilections and politicking.” There are a couple other cases that are referenced in the introduction, including the Zondo Commission, one of the biggest scandals in the history of State Capture and illegality dressed as piousness. 

Part Five: Poverty, Landlessness, and Inequality 

The last chapter of the book is prefaced by Kim Heller as she provides a brief summary of the economic situation in South Africa. This section is important because it is about the history of dispossession. 

All the problems faced by black South Africans stem from the Anglo and Boer colonist enterprises. South Africa is a Disneyland for Europeans. They’re the minority of the population, but control 80% of the economy, making South Africa the most unequal country in the world. 

This status quo is not only unique to South Africa. It’s the case with all African countries. The difference, however, is in the openness of white opulence and arrogance in the country. 

The imperialists use their propaganda machinery to advertise South Africa as a modern and economically superior African country, a model for other countries to follow. But what kind of modernity keeps 80% of the population poor and landless? What modernity allows a minority of white colonists to control the means of production? What modernity is it when White Monopoly Capital benefits the most from logistics networks and corridors? 

There are lots of questions to pose, but the sole truth is that real progress will be realized once land is in the hands of the majority, and we are not blackmailed into paying exorbitant prices for stolen property. A psychological revolution is required. That is the only way the land revolution will be taken to the imperialists and political administrators who control state security apparatuses like the police and the army.  

Kim also refers to President Zuma’s keen focus on vulnerable communities. This led to the establishment of the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform in 2009. That was in line with the Polokwane resolution on the need for the country to have a dedicated department for social and economic development of rural South Africa. It was because of President Zuma’s influence that the ANC adopted the policy of Land Expropriation without Compensation at the Nasrec Conference in 2017. The book then ends with President Zuma’s resignation speech on February 14th, 2017. 

This is a must-read for any person who wants to understand the history, politics, and economics of South Africa as well as the efforts President Zuma made in trying to change the fortunes of the downtrodden masses.

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Gugulethu Hughes


Gugulethu Hughes is the ScoonTV Africa correspondent

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