The mountain did not come to Mohammed – and Mohammed did not go to the mountain. Instead, they met virtually. For former president Jacob Zuma, to have the governing ANC’s top six officials traipse to his home at Nkandla would have been the cherry on top of a range of visits in the past month.
But the officials did not do so, and Zuma decided to Zoom them instead, meeting virtually in a meeting that ended on a cryptic note on Monday.
“The National Officials had very positive and constructive discussions with former President Jacob Zuma,” said possibly the shortest ANC statement in recent history. The meeting was called to twist Zuma’s arm into cooperating with the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture.
Spokesperson Pule Mabe would not be drawn on the meeting’s content, but News24 reported that Zuma missed a court deadline to file a responding affidavit to the contempt of court application brought by the commission. The former head of state had until Monday to file an affidavit setting out his case before the Constitutional Court hearing on March 25.
This indicates that he will not defend himself at court, in which case the commission’s secretary, Professor Itumeleng Mosala, has recommended a two-year jail term for civil contempt of court. A jail sentence will play right into Zuma’s hands as the former president is best placed in a victim position. It will also allow him to continue to position the commission as being in a witch-hunt against him rather than have the spotlight fall on his recalcitrant stance. Zuma failed to appear before the commission on four occasions this year, while he left without permission in November 2020 when he last appeared.
Zuma is understood to have spoken for two hours. In a soliloquy of unhappiness, he told the ANC Top six that he was being set up by a biased judge (Zondo) and that he had been treated unfairly by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela.
Madonsela’s report into State Capture is the basis of the Zondo Commission of Inquiry. Zuma told the ANC leadership had usurped his power by finding that he could not appoint the judge to chair the commission.
He said the ANC was not standing by him and that the judiciary was biased against him.
Zuma had hoped that the top six officials, led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, would make the pilgrimage to Nkandla. His plan now is to establish himself as an important elder political figure holding court at his estate, funded by the taxpayer to the tune of R246-million.
For all of 2021, there has been a steady stream of visitors to Zuma’s home, from EFF leader Julius Malema, who arrived by helicopter, to Police Minister Bheki Cele, who arrived in a police cavalcade in February.
Cele has refused to say what was on the agenda, but both he and ANC Deputy Secretary-General Jessie Duarte were probably dispatched by Ramaphosa to persuade Zuma to avoid a rule-of-law crisis and get himself to the Zondo Commission’s hot seat before it prorogues at the end of March. Even megarapper Cassper Nyovest visited Nkandla’s Jay-Zee.
The meeting with the officials was supposed to be a show of unity and respect for the commission and the rule of law, but the strategy has now gone pear-shaped despite the ANC’s gloss after the Zoom meeting with Zuma. There was never confirmation it was going to be in-person.
Zuma has built a significant social media political personality with the assistance of his daughter Dudu Zuma-Sambudla. She appears to have moved to Nkandla, where she showcases all her dad’s high-profile visitors on her Twitter timeline, which has quickly built a following of 50,000 followers. Zuma’s own account (@PresJGZuma) has more than 538,000 followers. The account is used to amplify all Zuma’s official communication without the intermediation of “old” media. This gives him a direct line to the many people who view his defiance of the Zondo Commission as cocking a snook at authority – a populist stance, but one often regarded as heroic in South Africa.
In a briefing on Monday night, ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule said the party’s top six officials had held a “very wonderful” five-and-a-half-hour meeting with former president Jacob Zuma.
He had explained to them why he had not and would not appear before the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into State Capture – but Zuma had then said he was still consulting his lawyers. “[We agreed] to give him space to continue consulting with lawyers to decide whether he will appear or not.
“We all agreed there was not any intention [presumably on Zuma’s part] to undermine the Constitution,” said Magashule, who added that Zuma had complained of “unfair prosecution and persecution over decades”.
Magashule ad-libbed his own critiques and on several occasions referred to the State Capture probe as “the so-called Zondo Commission”. He also seemed to draw a distinction between the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. DM
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