After tabloid Sunday World reported that former president Jacob Zuma has gone to Cuba for medical treatment, social media reacted with no small measure of incredulity to the news.
The reactions have been a mix of condemnation that he is allegedly not using the South African medical system, disbelief at the report itself and speculation that he may be trying to somehow use it to escape a looming corruption trial along with other legal issues, including allegations he levelled at the Zondo commission investigating state capture.
It must be noted that his medical trip has not been officially confirmed, but it reportedly relates to Zuma’s alleged poisoning at the hands of one of his estranged wives. The paper reports that numerous sources close to Zuma told them he either doesn’t trust South African doctors or thinks they can’t deal with poisonings. They all maintained he had gone to Cuba to a “secret hospital”, a concept that also left a few readers scratching their heads.
Apparently, the former president, now aged 77, may even be struggling with his memory of late, which could prove useful in court.
Last month, a former state security minister appointed by Zuma, Bongani Bongo, claimed that he went to Cuba to be treated for poisoning, allegedly suffered at the hands of Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan. Gordhan dismissed the allegation as utterly absurd.
Bongo needed to return to South Africa from Cuba to be arrested by the Hawks on bribery charges after allegedly trying to derail a parliamentary inquiry into alleged state capture at Eskom.
“You know recently I was given a poison so I was going to finalise my treatment in Cuba, so I had to cut my trip very short from Cuba to come and attend to what the police had called me for,” said Bongo. “I was in Cuba for a treatment of the poison I got recently.”
In September it was reported that Zuma’s estranged wife Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma, known as MaNtuli, would not be prosecuted for an alleged poisoning attempt on him in 2014 while he was president, owing to an apparent total lack of evidence.
Earlier this year her lawyers appealed to National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) boss Shamila Batohi to make a decision on whether she would be charged in the case.
Though MaNtuli has been at the centre of the allegations since 2015, she has consistently denied that she tried to poison her husband.
Addressing the ANC Cadres’ Forum in Phongolo, KwaZulu-Natal in 2017, Zuma said he became a target after calling for radical economic transformation.
“I was poisoned and almost died just because South Africa joined Brics [the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa economic bloc] under my leadership. They said I was going to destroy the country,” Zuma said.
KwaZulu-Natal director of public prosecutions advocate Elaine Zungu said in a letter to the Hawks this year, however: “There is no evidence that Mr Zuma was poisoned.”
Zuma, it turns out, had never even provided a statement in the matter, so was not even a complainant.
It was reported in October that MaNtuli would be suing the NPA and the Hawks for “malicious prosecution”.