On Thursday evening, President Jacob Zuma will stand at the front of Parliament with his hand on his heart as the military band plays the stirring notes of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, the 21-gun salute thunders and fighter planes roar overhead. It is a poignant moment at the Opening of Parliament every year, a brief moment of unity and patriotism. This year, the national salute will be taken by a man unworthy of the honour of leading the Republic of South Africa. He shamed himself and he shamed the Parliament he will enter. But Zuma will stand at the podium and Parliament and deliver the State of the Nation Address because he is incapable of recognising the disgrace he brought to himself and the nation. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
President Jacob Zuma’s favourite Shakespearean play is Macbeth. With an air of theatre, he is able to recite Macbeth’s lament for his dead wife:
She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
— Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 17-28)
It is the moment in the play when Macbeth is left alone to face the consequences of his actions, engulfed by personal wrath. His lust for power is replaced by weakness. He is empty.
Zuma recites the soliloquy, not because he is capable of introspection of his actions or feeling shame, but as a retort to his critics. He uses the lines to disparage those who are critical of him – they are “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.
It is Zuma’s enduring belief that he will triumph over his detractors that brought him to the point where he was on Tuesday – lying prostrate before the Constitutional Court. Alongside him lay the Speaker of the National Assembly, ANC MPs and members of his Cabinet, all complicit in the multiple abuse of power to circumvent the law and the Constitution. Like Lady Macbeth, they enabled the crime and then paid the price for it.
Zuma will deliver the State of the Nation Address at the same parliamentary podium he has stood numerous times, deriding those who tried to hold him to account for the security upgrades at his Nkandla residence. “Why do you say I should pay back the money?” he would ask mockingly of opposition MPs. “Never have I ever thought on the date when I will pay back the money,” Zuma declared to loud applause from the ANC MPs.
At that same podium, he tried to diminish the Office of the Public Protector by comparing her report to farcical government cover-up processes. He demanded to know why he should be made to implement mere recommendations that were not binding. Zuma also repeatedly declared that he had been exonerated from wrongdoing by every investigation into the Nkandla upgrades. That is patently untrue as Thuli Madonsela’s report found him to be in breach of the Executive Ethic Code for failing to protect state resources.
“It is my considered view that the President, as the head of South Africa Incorporated, was wearing two hats, that of the ultimate guardian of the resources of the people of South Africa and that of being a beneficiary of public privileges of some of the guardians of public power and state resources, but failed to discharge his responsibilities in terms of the latter,” Madonsela states in her report.
And the reason Zuma was asked to pay back the money is this: “It is my considered view that as the President tacitly accepted the implementation of all measures at his residence and has unduly benefited from the enormous capital investment from the non-security installations at his private residence. A reasonable part of the expenditure towards the installations that were not identified as security measures in the list compiled by security experts in pursuit of the security evaluation, should be borne by him and his family.”
This is something Zuma has never internalised or accepted, which is why he scorned all attempts to hold him accountable for Nkandla and used every institution at his disposal to shield him from having to pay. He preferred the sham report of his now discredited Police Minister, Nkosinathi Nhleko, whose advocate admitted to the Constitutional Court that he conducted the investigation knowing that what he was doing was unlawful.
While Advocate Jeremy Gauntlett capitulated on Zuma’s behalf in the Constitutional Court, it is doubtful even that would have re-assembled Zuma’s shattered moral compass. Gauntlett told the judges that Nkandla had “traumatised the nation”. Zuma would never acknowledge that.
Counsel for the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Wim Trengove told the court there was a “single and heightened” duty on the president to uphold the Constitution. Zuma has never taken this responsibility seriously. For him, the accumulation of power and wealth for himself, his family and friends has been paramount, and the presidency was a tool of his entitlement.
Zuma’s contribution to the liberation struggle can never be questioned, nor can his outstanding role in negotiating peace in KwaZulu-Natal and parts of the continent. But Zuma surrendered his morality along the way. Though he proclaims the primacy of his organisation, the ANC, it now has to be recognised that he is the single most destructive force in the 104-year-old party.
While defiling the Presidency and Parliament, Zuma also abused Africa’s oldest liberation movement, leaving it mangled and bleeding among the many casualties on the Nkandla battlefield.
Now, as a last ditch attempt to save Zuma’s presidency, Gauntlett appealed to the Constitutional Court not to issue a declaratory order acknowledging Zuma’s wrongdoing. He said this could be used to impeach Zuma.
“This is a delicate time for society and the concern that we have is that if any time either the official opposition or the EFF that they wish to bring impeachment proceedings, they of course have that right and they may do so at any time as they have done so in the past. But what would be wrong would be for this court to be […] into the position to making some form of wide condemnatory order which would be used effectively for provisional sentence for impeachment in Parliament.”
So when Zuma stands before the nation on Thursday evening, he will do so exposed as a man who betrayed his oath to the nation but is hanging on hoping for leniency from the Constitutional Court. He remains in office but not in power.
At the Constitutional Court on Tuesday, the ground shifted. Power shifted. The president no longer holds the absolute power he did a year ago.
Zuma will purport to deliver a report card on the country to a nation that no longer trusts him. His fate is in the hands of the Constitutional Court judges and opposition parties on a mission to remove him from power. His own political party has been left paralysed and discredited.
Twenty-six years ago, on 11 February 1990, Nelson Mandela walked out of Victor Verster prison after 27 years of incarceration. The first iconic image the world saw of him was his right fist raised. It was an unspoken declaration of power and the world rejoiced.
Twenty-six years later, one of Mandela’s successors will stand before the nation and raise his right hand to his heart for the national salute. Nobody will be rejoicing. This is a man who treated his nation with contempt and feels no shame for having done so.
Why should I play the Roman fool and die
On mine own sword? Whiles I see lives, the gashes
Do better upon them.
A tragic figure. A master of his own demise. The man responsible for the wretched state of our nation. DM
Photo: President Zuma in Parliament, 12 February 2015. (Greg Nicolson)
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