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Jacob Zuma: Pseudologia fantastica


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Jacob Zuma: Pseudologia fantastica

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13th August 2021


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Jacob Zuma has a fascinating psychiatric syndrome where sufferers identify fantasies as actual occurrences, writes our award-winning columnist Bhekisisa Mncube

Dear Mr President Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa. uBaba is not well, yet again. He missed “his day in court”. The irony, of course, is that he had demanded to be physically present, allegedly to finally spill the beans on his political nemesis.


Mr President, those of us who have followed the politricks of uBaba since the early 1990s know the drill: he “struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more”.

But you, Mr President, like me, didn’t go into proper exile, hence my empathy for your avowed political decency. Thus I plead that you work with me, my leader, as I unpack what we are dealing with here to appreciate the magnitude of the Russia-size problem.


uBaba is in fine fettle, “high spirits”, if you ask the physicians from the military health services and his legions of political hangers-on. Yet he is so sick that he missed his first “day in court”.

The thing is, uBaba’s illness doesn’t show on a full blood count test because he is suffering from a fascinating psychiatric syndrome known as pseudologia fantastica. Patients with the syndrome identify specific fantasies as actual occurrences. In other words, uBaba suffers from being a ridiculously fantastic individual who lives and swears by the fantastica values. Hence he is always in “high spirits”, with a burst of legendary laughter.

People in his condition are unable to differentiate between dreams and reality. I surmise that uBaba exists in a “dreamlike state of consciousness”, where the iqola (Southern fiscal) bird chirps in the veld: “He is the king, and masses of our people adore him.”

Although lying can be part of general psychotic behaviour, in people with pseudologia fantastica, their lies and deception are of an exclusive nature, as ama2000 would say: “Went to private school and played first-team cricket.” This explains the overhyped nonsense that he (uBaba) championed the radical economic transformation policy during his “nine wasted years”. He also allegedly went head-to-head with the Stellenbosch Mafia. Bollocks.

Instead, as we know, he invented the SA version of vomitorium decadence of Roman Empire proportions.

uBaba’s fantasy stories move from the inane threat of: “One day, I will tell all”, to totally bizarre theories like: “I know [ANC person] who ordered the killing of Chris Hani.”

But the classic one has to be this rhetorical question: “Did I auction off Table Mountain?” Perhaps. This was uBaba’s riposte to allegations that he auctioned off his presidential powers to the Guptas. When he was cornered during his appearance before the Zondo Commission of Inquiry, our patient reacted with ad hoc elaborations and further lies to cover up the original lie. These included naming his comrades as former apartheid spies. He even forgot that some served in his cabinet. Only someone with advanced pseudologia fantastica appoints known “enemy agents” to serve in the democratic state.

All these stories may seem on the verge of being believable and often involve the patient (uBaba) assuming important roles, like this line: “One day I will tell you what Madiba told me on his deathbed.”

I don’t buy the story of the 2020 “major setback” suffered by uBaba, as presented in court. I know that the most traumatic event for him was being asked to resign from his position of head of state three years ago.

I know that he is still smarting from that episode, which made him come head-to-head with reality. Hence he keeps asking this question of the ANC leadership: “What have I done wrong?” People in his condition lack hindsight.

At its advanced stage, sufferers of pseudologia fantastica develop an inability to defer gratification; the mantra becomes: “I want it now, I want it all, and I am prepared to storm the Bastille for it.” This explains the harem, Khwezi, and the Schabir Shaik and Gupta episodes.

Like a proper psychiatric patient, uBaba also lacks the critical ability to distinguish between right and wrong.

In this state of mind, uBaba honestly believes that he is an anti-West crusader. He truly believes that he received free loans from Shaik; free vegetarian curry from the (Three) Wise Men from the East, the Guptas; and pocket change from French company Thales.

He remains convinced about the existence of the three unnamed foreign intelligence agencies plotting his downfall. As the mark of a genius, the agencies were so inept that uBaba blindsided them to become head of state. Isn’t he just fantastica?

Till next week my man. “Send me.”

This Letter to Mahlamba Ndlopfu is written by Bhekisisa Mncube, a former senior Witness political journalist, the 2020 regional winner in the Opinion category of the Vodacom Journalist of the Year Award, and author of The Love Diary of a Zulu Boy, a memoir.

This opinion piece was first published in the Witness/News24.


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