While many of his fellow political prisoners turned to the rigours and pleasures of study on Robben Island, the young Jacob Zuma, serving 10 years, opted to learn chess.
Many of his comrades and fellow prisoners left the cold, harsh island armed with degrees.
The young Dikgang Moseneke, jailed for 10 years aged a mere 15, studied for his matric and two degrees while in prison at the same time as Zuma. Our president left with an ability to outfox, outmanoeuvre, outplay many of his contemporaries.
He learnt to be sly and cunning, and to think seven or eight moves ahead of the game.
As I write, the national executive committee (NEC) of the ANC is debating a motion of no confidence in Zuma – brought by senior strategist Joel Netshitenzhe.
Netshitenzhe is not a man to be trifled with. He is one of the ANC’s most strategic thinkers, a cornerstone of the Mandela and Mbeki administrations.
Over the past few years, Netshitenzhe will have thought deeply about the Zuma impact on South Africa and the ANC.
His motion is therefore not frivolous – we are on the precipice if Zuma stays.
But have Netshitenzhe and others considered what Zuma is thinking and planning as a fightback?
Have they thought about what happens when he does step down, whether it is today, this week or in two or three months?
The crucial collaborative academics’ report on state capture, released last week and titled Betrayal of the Promise: How South Africa is Being Stolen, said: “Commentators, opposition groups and ordinary South Africans underestimate Jacob Zuma, not simply because he is more brazen, wily and brutal than they expect, but also because they reduce him to caricature.
“They conceive Zuma and his allies as a criminal network that has captured the state.”
It is telling that Zuma sat in the room all day on Saturday as his own departure was being discussed.
Anyone else would have realised the massive conflict of interest he has, and would have recused themselves.
Zuma stayed because he did not care for conflicts or think they are important. He was therefore not just to fight, but also to win.
This past weekend was a battle, not the war. Zuma no longer wants to be president. You can see the job tires and frustrates the man.
He wants to be Atul Gupta now, the power behind the throne, the puppet master. Zuma wants untold wealth and to stay out of jail at all costs.
The only way he can do that is to ensure that he controls and manipulates the next ANC president and other key cogs around that new leader. So on Saturday he was furiously calculating several options.
The NEC cannot remove Zuma from the ANC presidency. It does not have the powers to do so.
Only a national elective conference of the party has the power to elect and remove leadership.
If the party manages to unseat Zuma from the state presidency, a conundrum awaits.
The president of the ANC will now be a freewheeling bird, with an office at Luthuli House or Sahara Computers, and will be calling provincial leaders and consolidating support for his preferred successor, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Captured institutions that have done his bidding in the past will be given orders on how to survive until she becomes president.
Expect the likes of NPA head Shaun Abrahams, public protector Busi Mkhwebane and a coterie at the Hawks to do everything in their power to continue to stifle key investigations into Zuma. Don’t be fooled – he has sway over all these institutions.
Essentially, the Zuma gang will continue to protect him, feed him and clothe him even as he leaves the Union Buildings.
Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba, deeply implicated in the kleptocracy established by Zuma and the Gupta family, will continue to deploy and secure the gang’s men and women such as Dudu Myeni at SAA, at key state-owned enterprises. If he is questioned he will say orders came from the strategic centre of power – the ANC. That means Zuma.
From his perch at Luthuli House, Zuma will ensure that he knows every single delegate to the ANC conference in December.
Dissenters will be culled. Anti-Nkosazana branches will be delegitimised and barred from attendance.
In December, the party will vote DlaminiZuma in by a large margin.
Zuma has done it before. Look at the ANC’s Mangaung 2012 conference – 75% of ANC delegates voted for him to continue in power. That is because he handpicked them to be in the room.
Zuma is ruthless, bold, scheming, wily and desperate.
Many of us thought he would have enough sense not to institute a deeply damaging and crooked cabinet reshuffle this year. He went ahead and did it. So far he has got away with it.
If the Zuma kleptocracy is to end, the enlightened ANC leadership and South Africa will need to institute a deep, fast and comprehensive breaking up of the Zuma criminal network.
Removing Zuma from the Union Buildings will not be it – the man’s tentacles run deep into the body of the country’s governance structures and into the ANC.
Sadly for all of us, because every day of Zuma in power is a loss for all South Africans, this is not the end of the road. A long fight lies ahead.
Zuma will continue to rage against the dying of his light, and he will fight to cling on to power.