Zuma and Trump cut from the same cloth in so many ways

Fred Khumalo Watching You
Donald Trump. Picture Credit: Getty Images
Donald Trump - Donald Trump. Picture Credit: Getty Images
Image: Getty Images

No matter how hard you try to avoid it, comparison between President Jacob Zuma and his American counterpart Donald Trump is inevitable, given the things they do or say both in and out of the line of duty.

They might be from two different corners of the world, two different cultures, and two different backgrounds, but they are echoes of each other, in their own peculiar way.

Trump, who inherited his riches from his father, went to university and later started a series of businesses that he continued to run into the ground - but still remained rich, which should give you an indication of how deep his father's pockets were.

Zuma, on the other hand, is a self-made man with hardly any formal education but his fox-like cunning enabled him to elbow his way to the highest office in the land. Once ensconced in that seat, he went on to surround himself with rich people who helped him feather his nest - while he gave them unlimited access to some lucrative state enterprises. When he goes into retirement, he should want for nothing - unless his reported financial ineptitude messes him up.

But let's get to a more topical and pertinent comparison. A book called Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House was released last Friday, four days ahead of schedule. Immediately after the release, the publisher, Henry Holt, received a cease and desist letter from Trump's lawyers. They argued that the book contained sensitive information that might compromise state security.

American president apes JZ by trying to ban a book, echoing sentiment of media conspiracy against him

The CEO of Macmillan (the parent company of Henry Holt) came out with guns blazing: "A demand to cease and desist publication - a clear effort by the president of the United States to intimidate a publisher into halting publication of an important book on the workings of the government - is an attempt to achieve what is called prior restraint. That is something that no American court would order as it is flagrantly unconstitutional."

Reading this week's press reports over the furore, I couldn't help being overwhelmed by a sense of deja vu. Yes, we've been here before. Only in November the State Security Agency issued a cease and desist order against further distribution of The President's Keepers: Those Keeping Zuma in Power and out of Prison, four days after the publication of the book written by veteran journalist and muckraker Jacques Pauw.

In addition to exposing a "shadow mafia state" created by and surrounding Zuma, the book further claims that the president was illegally paid R1-million a month by a private company - allegedly so he can give these businessmen access to lucrative state-owned enterprises.

The threat of censorship caused a spike in sales of the book, and it sold out its initial print run of 20 000 within 24 hours . This is unheard of in SA publishing history. The resulting shortage gave birth to a digitally pirated version being widely shared. To their credit, book stores and publishers also refused to obey the cease and desist order. They argued that the book was factual and its information in the public interest.

In the US experience, Trump has accused the media, liberals and intellectuals of ganging up against him, and the book he tried to stop fits into this alleged conspiracy. He seems to have stolen the sentiment from Zuma who, over the years, has also railed against the media, liberals and "clever blacks".

If the two presidents have nothing to hide, they must allow the books to be freely available and the media to report without fear. It's the public's constitutional right to have access to information.

If, however, the information is incorrect, then the presidents must sue. My suspicion is that they'd be reluctant to sue because the resulting court cases might open even more cans of worms.