Defend Truth


Eventually, Zuma will self-combust


Judith February is executive officer: Freedom Under Law.

As the state – and the world – lurches from scandal to disaster and back again, we are becoming increasingly inured to the excesses of our rulers. But something has to give – the question is when.


We are meant to welcome it. Yet, in a world that is looking more unhinged every day, it’s become a rather tall order. We are overwhelmed, unmoored, sinking. Old ‘truths’ are being challenged and there can be no more ‘business as usual’. Global inequality has taken care of that.

Around the world the marginalized and excluded shout for a voice. In Britain, a Brexit is really being considered and we are told that vote may be very close. In the United States Hillary Clinton, now firmly an establishment candidate, is still slugging it out with ‘outsider’ Bernie Sanders. Her Republican Party rival Donald Trump has clinched the nomination despite not having a single fact at his disposal when it comes to dealing with global affairs or the economy. As President Barack Obama warns from the sidelines, ‘The US presidency is not a reality show! Ignorance is not a badge of honour!’, is anyone listening?

Venezuela is selling off its gold reserves while food is rationed, in Brazil Dilma Rousseff is impeached amidst public pressure, migrants die in the Mediterranean and Europe teeters on the brink of fear – for terror and the inevitable rightwing backlash which comes in the wake of uncertainty.

Even in peaceful Australia, a school in rural Queensland was recently evacuated as a youth mob went on the rampage.

So, it’s not only us, we might exclaim – almost relieved. Yet in South Africa we seem to have nearly perfected the art of self-inflicted damage. The past week alone we have witnessed some startling acts of impunity by those elected to protect our interests. We heard that even in these times of austerity, the President’s wives have spent nearly R9 million of public money on fancy cars.

At the same time, the cooperative governance minister Des/ David Van Rooyen has been living in a boutique hotel because ‘suitable’ accommodation cannot be found for him. Well, that has cost us all in excess of half a million rand so far. One wonders what those who have been on housing waiting lists for more than a decade would regard as ‘suitable accommodation?’

So bombarded are we by the excess of those in Zuma’s self-serving world, we have almost become inured to it.

The rather more chilling revelations that Tina Joemat-Pettersson, the minister of energy, has sold off Strategic Fuel Fund (SFF) reserves without the go-ahead from Pravin Gordhan indicate just how intense is the struggle between those who would protect and defend the rule of law and those who believe the state is their own personal fiefdom.

If arrogance had a face, Joemat-Pettersson would win hands down. This is a minister who has in the past shown herself to be entirely above any form of accountability. We recall her reticence to discuss nuclear plans in Parliament, her refusal to address serious issues plaguing her department and highlighted by the Auditor-General and her post-State of the Nation speech this year which can only be described as incomprehensible, while President Zuma smiled on.

So, while she has tried to sweep queries about the SFF sale under the carpet, no doubt protected by her boss, there are key questions that must be asked about the sale of crude oil stocks at $28 a barrel in December. Why was that done at a time when the market was in what is known as ‘contango’ – i.e. that the current price of a commodity, such as oil, is lower than prices for delivery in the future. In other words, not a time to sell.

Oil has now reached $50 a barrel. So, whoever bought this oil locked in some pretty decent profits on the futures market on the day of this sale. Who benefitted from this action and why was Gordhan sidelined and the Public Finance Management Act breached? At the very least it seems like an act of gross incompetence or at the worst, one smells a whiff of corruption, not unlike the arms deal perhaps? Who will hold Joemat-Pettersson and those at the Central Energy Fund or the Strategic Fuel Fund to account, one wonders? This is a matter to be dealt with by Parliament given its oversight role, as well as the Public Protector, surely?

But Parliament has risen for the election campaigning period and so the urgency will be lost by the time it reconvenes. That would be convenient for those seeking to avoid accountability.

In a further flagrant act against Gordhan, Justice and Correctional Services minister Mike Masuthu has refused to cancel a Correctional Services IT contract to the tune of R378m. The Office of the Chief Procurement Officer, Kenneth Brown, had found serious irregularities not least of which was ‘fronting’ between the main contractor and sub-contractor as well as false declarations by the bidder and an inability to in fact execute the contract. Instead of being outraged, Masuthu has refused to be held to account even by Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts. The matter is now stuck in court by bidders who clearly feel emboldened. The courts have now become central in dealing with all disputes.

One would imagine that in such situations of willfulness by ministers, Gordhan would be in a position to direct his complaints to the President who would instruct the relevant ministers to uphold the law. After all, it was Zuma who spoke at successive SONAs about cleaning up procurement and the so-called ‘e-portal’ that National Treasury was putting in place so the public could track tenders.

But these are mere words. We know that the President has no real interest in seeing that there is accountability in the procurement process. If he did, Joemat-Petterson and Masuthu would not feel so very comfortable defying Gordhan so openly.

Increasingly, elements within the state are becoming rogue despite the shallow entreaties to adhere to the Constitution. The President himself is in the centre of the undermining of our Constitution and the tearing apart of our democratic institutions.

It’s a get-rich-quick scheme for his family and friends and a stay-out-of-jail card for him personally. Had Zuma wanted his day in court, he would have done the honourable thing and resigned after the recent ‘spy tapes’ judgment. Instead, the pliable NPA will now use public money to pursue an appeal that has no chance of succeeding.

All of this is common knowledge and as the public debate becomes louder and at times more hysterical about Zuma’s dangerous excesses, the President himself will calmly and ruthlessly continue to amass power and resources.

That is, until he is unable to.

Eventually Zuma will self-combust – it’s a well-worn tale of history. Margaret Thatcher and PW Botha may be able to speak of that beyond the grave. In Zuma’s case, the question is, ‘when?’

His battle with the National Treasury has shown his own daring. Gordhan finds himself in an open fight with his boss but also with some of his very own cabinet colleagues. Might Zuma have overplayed his hand though, that is the great, unanswered question.

We have been cursed to live in interesting times. We thus might wish to brace ourselves for a few more attempts at the ‘unthinkable’ from Zuma and those rapacious cronies dancing to his piper-like tune. DM


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