First Thing, Daily Maverick's flagship newsletter

Join the 230 000 South Africans who read First Thing newsletter.

Crumbling edifice: How long can the Zuma presidency hol...

South Africa

South Africa

Crumbling edifice: How long can the Zuma presidency hold?

The Presidency needs a war room just to keep track of the daily scandals, exposés and controversies besieging President Jacob Zuma, members of his Cabinet and government institutions. On one day, the news cycle was consumed with another set of charges being laid against the president, the Minister of State Security fending off revelations about his involvement in a rhino horn trafficking syndicate, the disclosure of an irate exchange between the National Director of Public Prosecutions and the head of the Hawks over Pravin Gordhan’s prosecution, a parliamentary inquiry into the SABC Board, and Zuma writing to three National Prosecuting Authority officials asking why he should not suspend them. How long can this go on? By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

Since the local government elections, President Jacob Zuma’s public appearances have been few and far between. Earlier this month, he addressed an ANC event at Dumbe in KwaZulu-Natal when he said he was “not scared of jail”. On Tuesday, he ventured into flood-hit Alexandra Township in Johannesburg in a rare attempt to be presidential and connect with ordinary South Africans. Zuma’s public appearances have to be under heavy security as it cannot be anticipated how some people might express their anger against the president.

As things stand, it looks as if Zuma might spend the remainder of his term fighting legal challenges, trying to dodge accountability and protecting those in his inner circle from further exposure. In recent weeks, Zuma and his ministers tried to block the release of the Public Protector’s preliminary report on state capture and are now trying to wriggle out of the damning evidence of collusion with the Gupta family.

On Tuesday, Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane laid charges at Rosebank Police Station against Zuma and a number of people implicated in the report, including the president’s son Duduzane, Mineral Resources Minister Mosebezi Zwane, Corporative Governance Minister Des van Rooyen and members of the Eskom board.

“We contend that the State of Capture report by former Public Protector Advocate Thuli Madonsela provides extensive prima facie evidence of corruption, undue influence and interference by President Zuma, members of the Gupta family and other actors – all to further their own personal interests at the expense of the South African people,” Maimane said.

The charges are unlikely to lead to any investigation by the police or prosecution against any of the individuals implicated in the report. What Maimane’s affidavit does is lay out in the public domain the potential offences, instances of alleged corrupt activities and abuse of positions of authority. The affidavit also breaks down the Public Protector’s 355-page report into a condensed, 13-page summary of the offences.

Zuma is still struggling with how to deal with the contents of the State of Capture report. In written replies to parliamentary questions from opposition MPs released on Monday, Zuma’s response to 11 of the 15 questions was the following:

“The questions asked form part of the subject matter of the Report into Allegations of improper and unethical conduct by the President and other state functionaries on matters relating to the removal and appointment of Ministers and Executives of State Owned Enterprises. It is clear from the remedial action to be taken that the Report is inconclusive. After the report was released, I have since indicated that I am giving consideration to the contents of the report in order to ascertain whether it should be a subject of a court challenge. I therefore cannot answer these questions as they form part of the said report.”

Zuma’s presidency is now hamstrung on the state capture issue, just like it was caught up on Nkandla over the past few years. After a protracted parliamentary process, in which the ANC went to extreme means to defend the president, Zuma was hauled before the Constitutional Court and made to pay for the non-security upgrades at his Nkandla home.

The state capture matter is much more complex as it involves improper influence over state institutions for the benefit of the Guptas and appointments in Cabinet on instruction of the Gupta brothers. The attempt to hijack the National Treasury through the firing of former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene involved massive financial losses for the country and could therefore amount to subversion of the state.

While the Constitutional Court found that the president had violated the Constitution by not implementing the Public Protector’s report on the Nkandla matter, the state capture issue could implicate Zuma in effective sabotage of the state.

In order to protect himself, Zuma has employed his “Stalingrad” strategy of contesting everything through every legal channel. He also has to protect others who have knowledge of what happened and could bring down the house of cards if he acts against them.

Although the presidency distanced Zuma from Mosebenzi Zwane’s fabricated announcement that Cabinet had resolved on the appointment of a judicial inquiry into South Africa’s banks, no action has been taken against the mineral resources minister. At Zuma’s last oral question session in Parliament in September, he said he was still addressing the issue with Zwane. In his written replies to parliamentary questions released on Monday, Zuma said in response to a question from DA MP David Maynier:

“I had indicated in my previous reply that the statement issued by the Minister of Mineral Resources, Mr Mosebenzi Zwane on 1 September 2016, on the work of the task team established to consider the implications of the decisions of certain banks and audit firms to close down the accounts and withdraw audit services from the company named Oakbay Investments, was issued in his personal capacity and not on behalf of the task team or Cabinet. I am not in the position to answer why the Minister Zwane in his reply on 22 September 2016 said that he was not speaking in his personal capacity. The question in this regard must be directed to the Minister.”

“I reprimanded the Minister for the statement,” Zuma added.

He clearly cannot take any demonstrable action against Zwane as they are both entangled in the Guptas’ political and business network. For the same reason, Zuma cannot allow scrutiny of Des van Rooyen’s visits with the Guptas spelt out in the Public Protector’s report. The meetings that Van Rooyen had before his brief appointment as finance minister could see fingers pointed directly at Zuma, who has sole prerogative to make Cabinet appointments.

A major difference between the Nkandla and state capture issues is that the ANC is now more circumspect and people in the senior leadership, including secretary general Gwede Mantashe, trust the evidence in the Public Protector’s report. It is unlikely that the ANC would go the same route to protect Zuma and his cohorts on state capture as they did previously.

Zuma’s presidency, meanwhile, also has to contend with the repercussions of the attempted prosecution of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan. Under pressure from Freedom under Law and the Helen Suzman Foundation, Zuma’s office wrote to National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) head Shaun Abrahams saying he should provide the president with reasons why he should not be suspended. Two other NPA officials, Sibongile Mzinyathi and Torie Pretorius, who led the failed attempt to prosecute Gordhan and former South African Revenue Services officials Ivan Pillay and Oupa Magashula, also received letters from the presidency requesting the same.

“The President has requested the three advocates to make written representations to him, as to why they should not be placed on suspension and whether to hold an inquiry into their fitness to hold office,” the presidency said.

Abrahams, who tried to ingratiate himself with the president by trying to pursue Gordhan, now finds himself as the latest high-ranking official in the security and justice establishment to be compromised and thrown under the bus. The initial collusion between the NPA and Hawks over Gordhan’s prosecution has also crumbled with an irate exchange between Abrahams and Hawks head Berning Ntlemeza exposed in court papers.

Zuma’s presidency is on unsteady ground. He is juggling multiple legal processes, including trying to fend off corruption charges as a result of the spy tapes case. His improper relationship with the Guptas has been exposed and he faces further legal challenges as a result. Zuma’s appearances in Parliament will continue to be tumultuous as a result of his presidency being heavily compromised by the evidence of state capture. While opposition parties are mounting pressure against him, his support in the ANC is fracturing.

Zuma’s allies in Cabinet and in state institutions are also under pressure and could turn on each other – as Abrahams and Ntlemeza have done. Those who are pushing back against state capture, such as Mantashe in the ANC and Gordhan in the state, are being strengthened by public support and civil society campaigning against Zuma.

The house of cards is trembling. It is a matter of time before more people in the ANC and the state abandon the Zuma-Gupta nexus, and opt to save their own political careers. It is a long time between now and the 2019 elections for the centre to hold. If the ANC is to survive, focus needs to shift from the crumbling edifice of the Zuma presidency to the new leadership that will be elected in December 2017.

The next few months will see a shift in power away from Zuma. From then on, he will be on borrowed time. And not a moment too soon. DM

Photo: South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC) President Jacob Zuma in a quiet moment during a news conference after appearing in the Durban High Court, after the National Prosecuting Authority dropped all charges against him, April 7, 2009. Zuma said he had been “vindicated” after prosecutors dropped corruption charges against him and vowed to focus on leading the country after an election this month. REUTERS/Rogan Ward


Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted