How Zuma, the smiling spy, controls South Africa

As head of intelligence for the outlawed African National Congress during apartheid, Jacob Zuma neutralized perceived traitors and sidelined opponents to shore up his position, people who worked with him say.

Decades later, as South Africa’s President, he hasn’t lost his touch.zuma1459700845394_aspR_1.794_w400_h223_e400

Lampooned in the media, jeered in public and now facing calls from inside and outside the ANC to resign over millions of rand of improper state spending on his private home in Nkandla, the 73-year-old’s grip on power seems like it should be weaker than at any point since his election in 2009.

Yet he endures, thanks to skills honed decades ago in the exiled ANC underground, promoting little-known officials who do his bidding to powerful positions within the security and intelligence portfolios, politicians who work around Zuma say.

He has also changed the way the party votes on internal appointments, including making members photograph ballot papers to prove their allegiance.

Critics, including former cabinet ministers and top commanders of the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), say Zuma’s administration also demotes opponents and intimidates dissenters. One example: Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, a constitutionally mandated anti-corruption watchdog investigating the spending on Zuma’s home, became the subject of an intelligence ministry probe into allegations she was a CIA spy.