It’s home time for President Jacob Zuma as he returned on Sunday from a week in America, where he acted globally but couldn’t stop thinking about the local politics. CARIEN DU PLESSIS looks at his long and hard to-do list, now that he’s back.
The past few weeks have seen President Jacob Zuma act more forcefully than ever in the first two and a half years at the helm of the country’s leadership – or rather, take the first steps towards possible forceful action.
In the next few weeks, he’ll have to see this action through – a crucial step if he wants to survive to see another term at the ANC’s elective conference in Mangaung next year.
According to a report in the Sunday Times, Zuma is set to hand police chief General Bheki Cele his letter of suspension this week, even though the presidency, via spokesman Mac Maharaj, predictably denied being aware of this.
Either way, Zuma would have to consider Cele’s submissions to him about why he shouldn’t be suspended, following a request from Zuma to do so following damning findings by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela relating to his irregular involvement in leases for police offices in Durban and Pretoria.
These two leases were worth more than R1.7 billion.
Zuma’s announcement that he had given Cele this ultimatum and that he would institute an inquiry against the police chief under the Police Act, came on Thursday evening, as Zuma was on his way to Houston to receive an honorary doctorate from Southern Texas University.
Zuma had visited Texas at least once before, in 2007, in the run-up to the ANC’s elective conference in Polokwane, where Zuma was challenging former President Thabo Mbeki.
The DA’s parliamentary leader Athol Trollip has welcomed Zuma’s intention to take steps against Cele, but has pedantically warned that he hoped Zuma was doing it “for the right reasons” (yeah, and if only politics was that simple).
This would obviously be because of the irregularities Madonsela found, and not because Zuma was purging a political opponent. (Cele was fingered in a report together with human settlements minister Tokyo Sexwale, sports minister Fikile Mbalula and arts and culture minister Paul Mashatile as part of an alleged anti-Zuma faction. This report was by suspended crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli, who declassified the report in October last year and reportedly sent it to Zuma.)
“We said then that President Mbeki had done the right thing for the wrong reasons,” Trollip said, adding that Zuma could prove that he was doing it for the right reasons by also firing public works minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde, who is also fingered by Madonsela’s report on the police leases.
Mahlangu-Nkabinde appears to be fighting for some political credibility, as she last week suddenly started speaking out against corruption in her department, blaming it on everyone but herself.
Which brings us to the second point on Zuma’s to-do list – a possible Cabinet reshuffle. Mahlangu-Nkabinde’s (in)competence apart, Zuma would need to do something about the cooperative governance minister Sicelo Shiceka, who has been on sick leave for several months now, and who periodically declares himself ready to return to work but has been too ill to cooperate with Madonsela’s investigation into his alleged abuse of public funds for visits to a friend in a Swiss jail.
Rumours surface every now and again that a Cabinet reshuffle is in the offing, an instrument Zuma used 11 months ago to strengthen his hand, and might do again.
Zuma’s third point of action would be issuing the terms of reference for the arms deal inquiry, which he announced in a press release the week before last, mainly to avoid Constitutional Court action brought by arms deal activist and ex-banker Terry Crawford-Browne.
He also has to announce a head, with retired Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo said to have been approached.
While Zuma’s announcement has been widely praised, opposition parties and experts said the proof of whether Zuma really wanted to appoint a commission with teeth would be in the terms of reference.
The Youth League is one of the more thorny issues on his list, with youth leader Julius Malema’s disciplinary hearing set to continue next week Wednesday (6 October). Zuma was one of the main movers of charges against the young lion, who, if found guilty, is set to be suspended from the ruling party.
Malema and his fellow leaders have a trick or two up their own sleeves, with a march planned on the Union Buildings – Zuma’s offices – at the end of October.
Meanwhile Zuma is set to do his usual grassroots tour to strengthen his popular support. On his diary for this week is an oversight visit to the King Sabata Dalindyebo municipality (Mthatha), while on Tuesday next week he’s set to pay a visit to the rural Free State. Service delivery to the poor, after all, is what his job description really is about. DM
"The soul is known by its acts" ~ Thomas Aquinas