Duduzane Zuma and the Jewish ‘uncle’ in Mozambique
Not many people know first-hand that Jewish anti-apartheid activist Albie Sachs “made the worst butter and jam sandwiches on brown bread”. It’s these personal memories that make Duduzane Zuma, the son of former South African President Jacob Zuma, intriguing to interview. The 37-year-old comes across as polished and polite, while exuding an air of confidence and humility.
Sachs lived down the road from the Zumas in Maputo, Mozambique, where Duduzane grew up. All the leaders and operatives of the African National Congress (ANC) lived in and around parts of the city.
“I remember Mr Sachs’ apartment quite clearly. I would’ve been about five or six years old, and not a word of a lie, he used to babysit us. We called him ‘Uncle Albie’ as that’s how we knew him. It was quite an intricate involvement because there were times when we were left in his care. The last time I saw him was the period before the car bomb that was put on his door handle which unfortunately left him limbless. I remember that day. I remember that explosion.”
Zuma grew up with Jews, both freedom fighters and children at the International School he attended. Although he is from a Christian background, he was always interested in the community. It’s unsurprising that he has quite a number of close Jewish friends – he even credits an Israeli as an elder of his – and has a Jewish son.
“By extension of his Jewish mother, I have Jewish family, and a beautiful Jewish son. I’m loving it. It’s something that I’m proud of, something that I’m inspired by. It’s going to be interesting and a learning curve from my side regarding his growth and development. He’s not your typical looking South African Jewish boy, but I think that’s going to be something that he’s going to be part of – getting that faith and getting that teaching or learning not just from the Jewish community but from the broader South African public and population. As his father, I’m definitely going to be looking to him for guidance and teaching. I’ve always advocated for him to understand his Jewish roots and his place in the world as a Jewish man. And I’m glad that he’s doing that at the moment.”
As for Israel, in spite of being invited multiple times to visit – and wanting to – Zuma hasn’t yet had the opportunity. He answers diplomatically when asked about claims that Israel is an apartheid state. “At this point, I will be able to make my decision only when I travel to Israel. I don’t want to be that person that offers commentary and I haven’t seen the situation for itself. Seeing is believing for me. So I can’t come to that conclusion at this point.”
But he does believe that if his father was still president, South Africa wouldn’t have downgraded its embassy in Ramat Gan.
“It was a strange thing that it happened quite quickly after he stepped down. If anything, South Africa should have an embassy in Israel, and the ANC should take a completely different stance to what’s happening in that part of the world and engage with the issues. We’re not going to agree on everything, I get that. But discussion and communication is the first port of call when it comes to resolution.”
He says the ANC’s decision to downgrade relations must be understood in its historical context.
“I think it’s unfortunate. I use the term ‘unfortunate’ because a lot of us are far removed from what’s happening in Israel or Palestine. And people need to be sensitive that this conflict has existed for a very long period of time. I always say the people who are going to be the ultimate resolvers of all of the issues will be the Israeli people and the Palestinian people; nobody else is going to solve the issues for them.
“My take is simple. We have our own issues in South Africa. We have issues that we need to focus on, and the time to be part of other solutions elsewhere in the world will come if we feel we have to do so, if we want to be a voice on the table. But for now, let’s focus on what’s happening in South Africa.
“Does everyone have a right to their opinion? Of course. But as it stands, and I’m speaking specifically to a foreign policy that the ANC has taken which is obviously government policy, it’s very fragile. I think it needs to be dug into and relooked at. We’re sitting in a new time with new people, and there’s a new way to deal with issues. I believe there are more people who want to resolve this issue amicably.”
Zuma believes South Africa can contribute to the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, but only if it changes its stance.
“The stance as it exists takes South Africa off the table. As a matter of fact, dare I say, by virtue of pulling its ambassadorship away, South Africa has actually chosen a side, or seems to have chosen a side. We have a very good relationship with the Muslim community in South Africa, but South Africa needs to rise above being seen to be taking sides because as it stands – this is my view, I may be wrong – it looks like the government has chosen a side. So, South Africa’s role in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian issue has been made irrelevant by the decision to revoke the embassy.”
Zuma is saddened by the recent violence, and says it was unfortunate and unnecessary.
“The Jewish community is a part of us. From my side, moving forward, there’s a guarantee you will be a part of the future of this country. You’ve offered a lot to South African society, and still have a lot more to offer. So as much as I may be misunderstood, the Jewish community will get to know me, will get to understand that what I want for the country is exactly what they want for the country. The majority of black people in this land aren’t looking for a handout; they are just looking for an opportunity. If people have something to gain, it means they have something to lose, which will change the whole dynamic of our socioeconomic environment.”