South Africa

Saving the strawman: Jacob Zuma on the skids

By Ranjeni Munusamy 19 November 2012

As more ANC structures come out in support of President Jacob Zuma’s second term, his presidency is plunging into further crisis, forcing his loyalists to undertake extreme measures to try to save him. Zuma, accustomed to others taking the fall for him and doing his bidding, may have landed himself in another pot of boiling water when he told Parliament that he was paying off a bond on his Nkandla homestead. Can the Teflon man survive once more or could he be facing a break point for the first time? By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

Former Brazilian president Lula Da Silva, acclaimed for the dramatic economic turnaround in his country during his second term in office, was in South Africa over the weekend. Speaking at an event at the Steve Biko Foundation on Saturday, he revealed that he had a discussion with President Jacob Zuma on Friday.

“Yesterday I told President Zuma that, given a second chance, you do not have to do the things that you did in the first term – you will have lost it,” Da Silva said. 

It is not known what Zuma’s reaction was to this advice, as his first term so far has been riddled with crises and controversy. So much so that opposition parties feel emboldened enough to force him to resign through a vote of no confidence in his presidency. (The ANC caucus in Parliament stepped up to block the matter from being debated in House.) 

Although the opposition was unlikely to succeed in securing a majority vote against Zuma, the debate unpacking his flaws and laying out the performance of his administration would have been bruising enough. Had it happened, the debate would have fed into the swirl of negative sentiment around Zuma’s presidency, domestically and internationally. 

But controversy continues to plague Zuma anyway, with media reports this weekend suggesting that he lied to Parliament and that his corruption case may not be dead and buried as he had hoped. City Press reported that there was no bond registered on Zuma’s Nkandla homestead as he had claimed in Parliament last Thursday. 

In an emotional response to questions from the opposition regarding state spending on renovations at his private home, Zuma said: “I took the decision to expand my home and I built my home with more rondavels, more than once. And I fenced my home. And I engaged the bank and I’m still paying a bond on my first phase of my home.”

But the paper revealed that no bond was registered against the Zuma family’s property, titled portion 27 of reserve 19 of farm number 15,839, Nkandla. The land on which Zuma’s home stands is owned by the Ingonyama Trust, headed by King Goodwill Zwelithini, and deeds records for Zuma’s property that show there is no bond registered against it.

It is also curious that though the first phase of renovations at the homestead Zuma is referring to took place about 12 years ago, documents about a bond never once came up in the Schabir Shaik or his own corruption cases. The renovations at the homestead were central to both cases as it was shown in the Shaik trial that funds from the French arms deal company Thales went towards the upgrade at Zuma’s rural home. 

Tons of documentation formed part of both cases, but neither Shaik nor Zuma’s defence teams ever presented evidence of bond documents to finance the renovations to counter the state’s argument that they were paid for through corrupt means. 

Opposition parties were quick to react to the story on Sunday as their intention to undermine Zuma’s presidency would be bolstered if the president did in fact lie to Parliament. Congress of the People leader Mosiuoa Lekota said if Zuma knowingly misled Parliament, it amounted to perjury. 

“This is a very serious offence under the Constitution and the law as indicated in Section 89 of the Constitution of the Republic,” Lekota said. 

Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko said “serious consequences must follow” if Zuma had lied, and this warranted the most urgent and immediate consideration by the National Assembly. 

“I will today [Sunday] write to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Max Sisulu, and urge him to request clarification from the Presidency as to the reports in the City Press today, as they seriously risk bringing Parliament into disrepute,” Sapa quoted Mazibuko as saying.

The DA was also boosted by a report in the Sunday Times that the prosecution team on Zuma’s case was opposed to the decision to drop the charges against him in April 2009. The National Prosecuting Authority has been ordered by the Supreme Court of Appeal to hand over to the DA the documents it used to decide to drop the charges against the president, but has not complied with the order. 

The latest revelations are significant to this matter, as they show that the then-acting prosecutions boss Mokotedi Mpshe disregarded the advice and legal assessment of the prosecution team when he took the decision. By wanting access to the documents, the DA is obviously laying the groundwork to challenge the decision to drop the charges in court. 

The documents in possession of the Sunday Times, showing that the prosecution team found “fatal” legal flaws in Mpshe’s decision, grease the wheels of the DA’s case and signal to Zuma that there’s serious trouble on the horizon. 

While there are anecdotal reports that the Nkandlagate scandal is being discussed at some branch meetings, the mounting controversies around Zuma do not appear to be affecting branch nominations for leadership positions in the ANC. Nominations are so far following anticipated support patterns, with Zuma drawing most support from his strongholds in KwaZulu-Natal, the Free State and Mpumalanga. 

But his supporters are taking no chances and are undertaking extraordinary measures to make sure his campaign for re-election at Mangaung remains on track. In the ANC’s biggest region in the country, eThekwini, delegates were handed “100% JZ” t-shirts bearing the president’s face at the entrance to the hall where the meeting took place. 

To counter the deluge of negative reports around Nkandla, the SACP in KwaZulu-Natal led a march through the area on Saturday. “The march, which will counter claims that Zuma is prioritising his village and his own residence, is expected to be attended by high ranking SACP, ANC and Cosatu leaders, including top government officials,” an SACP statement said ahead of the march. It is not clear which government officials attended and in what capacity they were asked to attend a political march.

The SACP in KwaZulu-Natal, supported by the party’s general secretary Blade Nzimande, has also proposed that an “anti-insult law” be introduced to stop attacks against the president. The proposal has courted much controversy, as such legislation is not a feature of progressive democracies and would only serve the purpose of shielding Zuma from further scrutiny and criticism. The proposition by Zuma’s staunchest supporters is obviously in anticipation of the fact that the string of controversies is not about to end, should Zuma secure a second term, and that extraordinary measures will be required to protect him from further exposure.     

The mission to protect Zuma has now gone to such lengths that Cosatu has overstepped Alliance protocol in a desperate attempt to make sure the president is not contested by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe at Mangaung. A standing rule in the tripartite alliance is that the ANC, SACP and Cosatu do not interfere in the electoral process of the other partners. But now Cosatu is prepared to breach the rule and suppress the will of ANC branches to protect Zuma. 

Speaking at a Cosatu meeting in Durban, the federation’s president S’dumo Dlamini said Motlanthe must reconsider his stance and not stand for the position of ANC president even if he is nominated. Cosatu wants Motlanthe to stay on as deputy president and is planning to meet him to dissuade him from accepting nomination to stand against Zuma. 

Despite harsh criticism of the Zuma administration in the past, Cosatu is now banking on Zuma undergoing a dramatic metamorphosis in his leadership style and emulating the economic successes of Lula Da Silva, the former Brazilian president, during his second term. They have done so without any form of commitment from Zuma that he intends to do so. 

But this is characteristic of the strawman presidency, which needs to be propped up by his ministers, spokesmen, the ANC parliamentary caucus, his allies and acolytes to survive. When Zuma has to face the music himself, as he did in Parliament last week, he resorts to playing the victim card to evoke sympathy from his supporters and ward off the opposition. 

Zuma might still be sailing towards victory in Mangaung, but his presidency is facing choppy waters in the near future. His desperation to escape accountability may have finally caught up with him, and he will now have to prove to the country that he did not mislead Parliament. Unlike with all the other instances where others can intervene to protect him, in this case, he will either have to produce proof of the bond or face severe consequences.  

The strawman will need much more than his human shield of supporters to survive the coming storms. DM

Photo by Greg Marinovich.


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