President Jacob Zuma has taken yet another step to flex his muscle and finally attempt to build a legacy of firm leadership amidst criticism of his indecisiveness and paralysis. In part three of his decision-time “revival”, he’s established an enquiry into the controversial police leases and asked the police chief to defend himself against suspension. CARIEN DU PLESSIS reports on the thickening plot.
He isn’t even back in the country yet from his outing to the United Nations in New York (to attend the same annual sitting former president Thabo Mbeki missed after he was unceremoniously sacked by the ANC three years ago this week) – and President Jacob Zuma is getting tough already.
Or rather, his recent streak of putting his foot down is continuing, with Zuma announcing in a statement that landed in inboxes early on Thursday night (usually it’s the kind of missive that’s supposed to pre-empt some PR disaster looming in the weekend papers) that he’d been having a little chat with his police boss, General Bheki Cele, who was implicated by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela in the mismanagement of two office building leases worth more than R1.7 billion in Pretoria and Durban.
“The President informed the national commissioner that he intends to institute an inquiry into allegations of misconduct in relation to the procurement of both leases as per the findings of the Public Protector. The national commissioner was afforded an opportunity to make representations as to why the President should not suspend him pending the outcome of the inquiry,” Zuma’s spokesman Mac Maharaj said in the statement.
Cele, who was sick in hospital recently for more than a week, and emerged much thinner for it, “is cooperating fully” with Zuma in this process, Maharaj said. Zuma’s notice about the commission of inquiry was issued to Cele at the end of August, just after his recovery from illness, and complies with legislation.
Cele’s cooperation must come as a relief to Zuma. A police chief, which holds one of the country’s top security positions, is someone you’d rather have on your side, and you’d want to have his trust, even if you do play Rambo with him.
For more than eight months now, since the first stories on the police lease scandal surfaced in Sunday papers, journalists have been bugging Zuma to take some action, and now he’s eventually doing just that.
The suspense over whether Cele would indeed be suspended or not is set to continue for another few days, or weeks, or even months (the president really takes his time when it comes to thinking and reading), as Zuma is now considering Cele’s response to his request.
Maharaj in the statement added Zuma “continues to process other recommendations relating to other parties”.
This probably means the South African public would be seeing some action related to public works minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde, whose PR machine of late is in such overdrive that a newly-arrived alien from Mars would think she’s the country’s number one corruption fighter. In fact, she’s also been implicated by Madonsela as guilty of lease mismanagement, and the Public Protector has recommended action be taken against the minister.
Cooperative governance and traditional affairs minister Sicelo Shiceka, who Madonsela had been investigating for an unrelated matter in connection with alleged misspending of public funds, and who has apparently been ordered by Zuma to remain ill and on sick leave for a bit longer despite his protestations to the contrary, is also waiting with bated breath.
Madonsela on Thursday handed her provisional findings related to Shiceka to Zuma’s office as well as Shiceka himself for a response. The final report – which would include the response – is expected to come out in the first half of October.
“Most of the matters the President is working on cannot be discussed in full without prejudicing affected parties. He will continue to follow due process to ensure the matters are disposed of using correct procedures,” Maharaj said.
Earlier in the week Mahlangu-Nkabinde announced that she’d “unwittingly” inherited a “poisoned chalice” when she was appointed to head the department, as corruption among officials was rife and they were apparently uncooperative and deceptive – and she said they love to shred things.
She has since gone to court to have the two police leases with businessman and not-Zuma’s-friend Roux Shabangu, cancelled, a move that was both praised and slammed by the DA, which said she should never have reinstated the leases when she was appointed in October last year in the first place.
This move indicates Zuma or someone in his office must have had a “shape up or ship out” kind of chat with Mahlangu-Nkabinde lately.
On Thursday morning she defended herself on radio, telling SAFM’s Xolani Gwala that the legal advice she received in the beginning was that the leases were valid, but state law advisor Enver Daniels later told her they were invalid and should be cancelled.
She admitted she’s made representations to Zuma twice on the matter.
Zuma’s announcement on the inquiry on police leases comes exactly a week after he dropped the bombshell that he would appoint an inquiry into the controversial multibillion-rand arms deal.
He is yet to appoint a head (rumoured to be former Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo) and he is expected to announce its terms and conditions after he returns to the country by weekend. Experts say these are crucial as they would indicate whether the commission would have any teeth.
Another recent indication that Zuma is drawing a line under accusations that he is an indecisive leader, and that he is in this way starting his campaign for election to a second term by the ANC in just over 14 months’ time, is the disciplinary hearing he instituted against ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema.
Zuma isn’t so much involved in the details of the hearing, but it certainly was likely to have had more than his blessing. As disillusionment with Zuma’s leadership within the party grows, and the ANC remembers how it sacked its former president this week three years ago, Zuma would be keen to do things by the book without alienating the wrong people to ensure himself a second term.
His one-time ally and confidante, Cele, is either well-looked after already by means of an international deployment as has been rumoured, or else the police chief is, after all, disposable. It’s up to Zuma to do the right thing. DM
"Take a chance, won't you? Knock down the fences which divide. Tear apart the walls that imprison you. Reach out. Freedom lies just on the other side." ~ Thurgood Marshall