It is becoming clearer by the day that President Jacob Zuma's enemies are swirling, sniffing blood in the water. People are emboldened by the claims around the Gupta family, the Mcebisi Jonas revelation, and the assurance that Gwede Mantashe will investigate it all thoroughly. This makes it harder to know what is going to happen next. One of the main reasons for this is that we are now entering the territory of old friends turning on each other. Some will be motivated by the urge to do the right thing, others by their own political agenda, and still others just to try to benefit. The stakes are high. And so, it appears, are the emotions. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
On Sunday the Sunday Times revealed how former Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi was “spilling the beans” on a meeting involving Zuma, his son Duduzane Zuma, a member of the Gupta family, and the President of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang. Vavi is convinced that this meeting was to facilitate business deals. And yes, he’s off to the Public Protector about it.
There are quite a few reasons why this is important. First, and possibly crucial, it directly links Zuma to the business dealings of his son Duduzane. While we don’t know what happened in the meeting, it’s hard to believe that business was not discussed, otherwise why have Duduzane Zuma in the room? This is purportedly the smoking gun that belies Zuma’s claim that the business of his son is not his business.
What is also important is that this is coming from someone who has very real legitimacy. Vavi has been accused of many things, but no one has ever been able to make the charge of lying or corruption stick. Even though he may have been drummed out of Cosatu, he has massive legitimacy in our society, and in a fight in which credibility is crucial, he is probably going to win it.
Vavi also explains how Higher Education Minister and SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande was on the same trip, and saw the same thing happening. He does not appear to deny seeing this meeting, saying, “I am not in a position to talk about the travels of Duduzane” and that he has “never seen or witnessed a meeting between President Zuma, Nguema, Duduzane and Gupta”. Certainly, there is an interesting choice of words here – Nzimande does not appear to be saying outright that it did not happen.
Nzimande is currently in a fascinating position. His party has led from the front in the calls for Zuma to distance himself from the Gupta family. It has gone further, calling for a judicial commission of inquiry, and even suggested that the whole country is at risk from this phenomenon. Surely Nzimande agrees with those calls? It would be impossible for Solly Mapaila, the SACP’s second deputy general secretary, to make them without his agreement. So then, why the reticence? (Unless he genuinely didn’t see anything, but then why would Vavi mention him in the first place?)
This may indicate Nzimande has some information of his own to dish, and is waiting for the right moment. Perhaps his response is then a shot across the bows of Zuma, a suggestion of what he could say, if he wanted to. Or, perhaps, Nzimande is himself compromised in some way. He has certainly addressed a New Age Business Briefing at least once. Whether he did it because he thought it was a good idea, or because he was going with the flow, or because of some other reason, we don’t know. But it would certainly be held against him should he come out with some other information around the link between the Guptas and Zuma right now.
All of this raises another important question. How much more information is there to come about the “social” relationship between Zuma and the Guptas, and who is going to leak it?
What is becoming clear is that those who first supported Zuma, those who gave him the necessary momentum to win at Polokwane, can no longer be counted on to do so. Zwelinzima Vavi, Blade Nzimande, Fikile Mbalula (politically humbled through his relationship with Julius Malema into denying he was appointed by the Guptas… and discussing pictures of a penis on Twitter), Gwede Mantashe himself, Mathews Phosa, Thandi Modise, Kgalema Motlanthe, and many many more.
It’s a long, distinguished, and possibly quite weighty, powerful list. Unfortunately for Zuma, some of these people are likely to know plenty about where the dirt has been buried. They were with him at the start, they would know how things were done, and why. And we’re talking about the highest levels of government and the ANC here. This makes life harder for him.
But it also means that Zuma is going to have to rely more and more on the allies who came later, the people who are beholden to him because he gave them some power after he became President. People like Nkosinathi Nhleko at the Police Ministry, Michael Masutha at Justice, Shaun Abrahams at the National Prosecuting Authority, and of course Mthandazo Berning Ntlemeza at the Hawks. All of them are completely reliant on Zuma for their power, and thus he can trust them.
This means that their behaviour is likely to be quite scary. We live in a time when the reaction of many to a robbery at the Helen Suzman Foundation is immediately to believe the Hawks did it. Incidents like that could increase. Worse, as the political intensity rises, along with the stakes, some people could be tempted into extreme actions to save themselves, and the man who made them. These are the people who do not have their own political constituency within the ANC, and have nothing to lose, and everything to gain; their job is to make sure the status quo is maintained, sometimes by any means available.
One of the big questions we should ask is whether the publication of all of this anti-Gupta information is co-ordinated. Is it a campaign, or is it simply people coming forward with information? Key to answering that is timing. If everything goes quiet and then suddenly after the local government elections there’s a burst of information, that would scream coordination. If it comes along in dribs and drabs, perhaps it’s more spontaneous, although we’ll probably never know for sure.
What we do know for sure is that our politics has entered a new state of unpredictability, in that it is difficult to know what will happen next, and who will turn on whom next. And whose skeletons will come tumbling out of the closet as a result. DM
Photo: Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi is seen joking with President Jacob Zuma at the trade union federation’s 11th national congress at Gallagher Estate in Midrand on Monday, 17 September 2012. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA
Ireland's population has still not recovered from the Great Famine.