When Democratic Alliance Parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane made the case for a vote of no confidence against President Jacob Zuma earlier this month, he said Zuma had become “President I did not know”. He said Zuma denies knowledge and complicity in anything that goes wrong. In an interview with the SABC this week, Zuma indicated that he knew a whole lot on the two issues topping the news agenda – Eskom and the battles in the criminal justice sector. Perhaps even more than he is letting on. Does he have a hand in the wrangling? Reading between the lines, probably. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
The one thing we know for certain now is that Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown and Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko have been keeping their boss updated about the controversies in their respective portfolios. That answers the prevailing question: Are they acting alone or does the president know?
It was an opportune moment for President Zuma to speak on the issues besetting power utility Eskom and the troubles in the criminal justice system. Yet, bizarrely, after an hour-long interview with the SABC, even more questions arise and there was no more clarity on the issues than before he spoke at length on the matters.
On Thursday, Business Day reported that Zuma was “directly involved” in advocating the controversial inquiry at Eskom that saw four executives placed on suspension. “Individuals with direct knowledge of events at the Department of Public Enterprises and in the government’s energy war room said that in the days preceding the board meeting at which the decision was taken, Mr Zuma contacted acting director-general Matsietsi Mokholo suggesting that the department support the idea of an inquiry,” the report stated.
The report went on to say that Eskom chairman Zola Tsotsi motivated the need for the inquiry at a board meeting several days later, claiming the president wanted it to take place.
In the interview with the SABC, recorded on Wednesday, Zuma justified the need for the inquiry at Eskom, and defended the suspensions of the top executives. The reasons he advanced were somewhat strange and suggested a conspiracy of sorts.
Regarding the construction of new power stations, Zuma said the delays in getting Medupi online had aggravated and lengthened the occurrence of load shedding.
“It didn’t seem that there is somebody that is looking at the timeframes seriously because I’m sure when the timeframes were made, people were clear what they were talking about… Otherwise by now, we would be getting out of the problem of load shedding. The very fact that it is not finishing, it means you are getting deeper into a problem,” Zuma said.
He said there was also the “unusual thing” of “power stations that are almost collapsing at the same time”.
“If people remember, I said this is not normal. Why are they collapsing? Why would people say they have not been serviced? What have they been doing all the time?” the president asked.
“So I felt there was a problem. I think I expressed this to the minister,” Zuma said, adding that the breakdown of the plant could not be an “innocent development”.
So what happened, then? Is Eskom’s explanation about the neglect in the maintenance schedule false? Is the strain on the plant due to the inadequate supply not true? Is there some other explanation – well, other than it was caused by Apartheid – behind the existing power stations break down and the new ones being delayed?
From Zuma’s comments, it can be inferred that there is. And is this what prompted the suspensions of the senior executives, including the chief executive officer Tshediso Matona? “Why are they not turning it around?” Zuma asked. “This prompted the minister to say something must be looked at and I agree.”
Zuma said although Matona had been in the job only six months, “these were the people he was managing… In the top management there is a problem. Investigations must be done without them.” This did not mean those under suspension were guilty of wrongdoing but “for investigation to take place they must be out,” the president said.
Asked why no action had been taken against Tsotsi, who had been at Eskom for years, Zuma said they “couldn’t say everybody must go”. He said the fact that Tsotsi was still in his position did not mean he was “clean”. “I don’t know what the investigation will say about chairperson,” Zuma said, adding that he did not think “there is anyone who is being protected”.
The upshot is that unlike previously on issues of national importance, Zuma did not claim he does not know what is going on. In fact, the Presidency issued a statement on Thursday saying the president “has been kept fully briefed about the developments at Eskom”. “Eskom is receiving full support from the Department of Public Enterprises, the Presidency and government as a whole to improve operations and implement the energy security plan. Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa leads the government support efforts,” the statement read.
Possibly in response to the Business Day story, it went on to say: “The Presidency will not entertain the rumours and gossip about the operations at Eskom as that will not assist the process at hand, the imperative task of implementing the urgent medium term plan to enable the country to manage the energy shortages.”
However, nothing fuels gossip more than the president suggesting that there could be something more to the delays at Medupi and the breakdown of the existing plant.
With regard to the attempts by the Police Minister to suspend Hawks bosses Anwa Dramat and Shadrack Sibiya for the rendition of Zimbabwean citizens, and the suspension of Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) head Robert McBride, Zuma said the matter should not be politicised. He said listening to all the criticism, he was confused as to what people wanted government to do. “If people act, they are wrong. If they don’t act, they are wrong.”
Although he claimed “I wouldn’t have all the details”, Zuma said “the fact of the matter” was that the report “did implicate Dramat”. This means that like Nhleko, Zuma has accepted the findings in the draft Ipid report and not the final report that exonerates the Hawks officers.
Zuma also seemed to have an alternate explanation as to why the courts found Nhleko’s attempts to suspend Dramat invalid. He said Dramat had contested why he had not been given an opportunity to say why he should not be suspended and on this “technical point”, the court had ruled in his favour. “There are matters of procedures. They differ in degrees,” Zuma said.
However the reason why Nhleko was not able to suspend Dramat was because the courts found that he did not have the powers to do so. It is rather worrying that the president has been briefed about the contents of a draft Ipid report, enough to convince him that the Hawks officers are “implicated”, but not about the findings of both the Constitutional Court and High Court about the independence of the Hawks.
What is clear, though, is that Nhleko has not been acting without the president’s support.
Regarding the strange happenings at the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), with the National Director of Public Prosecutions Mxolisi Nxasana reporting that his deputy Nomgcobo Jiba had gone AWOL, Zuma said the situation was “unfortunate”. The NPA said this week that Jiba could not be found and that a summons for fraud and perjury charges could not be served on her.
But as he spoke on the matter further, it became apparent that Zuma had supported Jiba’s decision to charge the KwaZulu-Natal Hawks head Johan Booysen. This is despite Judge Trevor Gorven ruling: “I can conceive of no test for rationality, however relaxed, which could be satisfied by her explanation. The impugned decisions were arbitrary, offend the principle of legality and, therefore, the rule of law and were unconstitutional.”
Zuma said it was a “miracle” to him how courts could rule differently on matters. “You can’t say human beings can’t make mistakes, even judges,” Zuma said. “Are people (it is unclear which people he is referring to) scoring points? I can’t say.”
He went on to say that the allegations against the Cato Manor police unit “were very serious”. “I don’t think there is a prosecutor who will say ‘I can’t prosecute’,” Zuma said. He said the relatives of those killed would not accept this.
The test of a winnable case, rationality, the rule of law and constitutionality, all of which should be taken into account in a decision to prosecute, is apparently not ranked as highly.
Although Zuma said repeatedly he did not have all the details on the matter, it is clear which side of the divide in the NPA he was on.
What does all this mean? It cannot be argued, as DA Parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane argued in Parliament, that Zuma had become “President I did not know”. Clearly, the script has changed, and the president is showing he knows a lot about the current controversies. But it would seem that his understanding and explanations are markedly different from popular opinion. Perhaps this is because he is Number One and has the benefit of a lot more information than the rest of us. Or perhaps it is because he chooses to believe the versions that suit him.
What is evident, though, is that none of these matters will be resolved any time soon. We now know that there is political involvement in all these controversies and these will, in all probability, determine the outcomes. It would seem that the writing is on the wall for Matona, Dramat, Sibiya, McBride and Nxasana, judging by the unusual move by the president to back up Tsotsi, Nhleko and Jiba. But there is a lot more turmoil to come, and with Zuma showing his hand, the stakes just got higher. DM
Photo: Jacob Zuma attends a ‘Millenium Development Goals’ meeting during the general debate of the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly at United Nations headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 25 September 2013. EPA/PETER FOLEY
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