When Gauteng communications manager Simon Hodgson strapped himself in for the kulula flight to Durban on Wednesday‚ the last thing he expected was to find himself in the hot seat next to arguably the country’s most controversial man‚ former president Jacob Zuma.
Hodgson who was flanked by his six-year old son Matthew on his left‚ was left momentarily speechless when Zuma politely asked him to remove his can of cold drink that he placed on the seat to his right‚ while he put on his seat belt.
“I looked up and there stood Jacob Zuma. It took me a few minutes to realise that he was coming to sit next to me in economy class. It was an unexpected start to my Wednesday‚” the father of two said.
Zuma took his seat and strapped on his seatbelt‚ while his bodyguard sat immediately behind him — next to Hodgson’s wife‚ Tarryn and their four-year-old daughter‚ Emily. The family were en route to Durban for a family holiday on the south coast.
Hodgson said he immediately struck up a conversation with Zuma about the first time they met in 2010 at a church event at Monte Casino.
“Our church‚ God First‚ invited Zuma to an event and I even took a picture with him and I mentioned it to him. He remembered the event like it was yesterday and we spoke about it‚ including the gift of the sword that we presented to him. He said that he has it at his house.
“We then started talking about our children‚ because he brought his daughter Gugu to the event‚ and he spoke about all his children. He even made a joke when he said‚ ‘you must know Duduzane‚ the most famous of all my children?’ I thought it was quite interesting that he could make a joke about something like that.”
Hodgson said Zuma appeared very relaxed and was very jovial as they chatted about his day‚ saying that he had earlier visited the home of the late Winnie Madikezela-Mandela and that he was going to Nkandla.
He said that Zuma chatted to a woman sitting across from him‚ a school principal who spoke to him about her ideas for education.
“He listened to her and even took down her details. Then when the food trolley came around‚ the woman bought him Pringles because he couldn’t find his wallet on him.”
Hodgson said Zuma entertained several people who came to his seat to chat and take photos.
“There was one moment that I found very cute‚ when my son Matthew offered him some of his Easter eggs and Zuma accepted some saying that he loved chocolate. He even shared some of his Pringles and peppermints with my son.
“I found the whole encounter very interesting. It wasn’t the space to discuss politics or the controversy surrounding him and I wasn’t going to bring it up. In fact people have very strong opinions about him but when you’re confronted face to face‚ engaging with him‚ he was just courteous‚ warm and kind. He was very nice and talkative.”
Hodgson said he asked him about flying economy class.
“I thought it was strange that he was flying on kulula. I didn’t realise that President Cyril Ramaphosa had done the same thing and only found out about that when I read comments from people on my Facebook saying that he was copying Ramaphosa. Zuma told me that he has flown commercial flights before‚ especially on quick trips to Durban.”
He said when he posted the picture on his Facebook page‚ he didn’t realise the reaction it would attract.
“There are some people who questioned why I didn’t take on Zuma and ask him the hard questions‚ but this wasn’t the place. When we were about to leave‚ my son asked him when he was going to Johannesburg. He told him that they would have to schedule and co-ordinate their diaries and arrange a meeting.”
by Yasantha Naidoo- TimesLIVE