Reading from Zuma’s moral script

2014-03-24 10:00

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“My problem is not just that they are corrupt. We have accepted that. It is more about the fact that they don’t know it.”

That was a friend’s response to the ANC leadership’s defensive reaction to Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s report this week on the Nkandla upgrades.

As we discussed the failure of the governing party’s bigwigs to see any wrong in President Jacob Zuma’s conduct over the Nkandla affair, my friend told me he had come to expect no better from the people who surround the president.

“They all read from the same moral script,” said my friend, who is a former underground Umkhonto weSizwe operative who spent parts of his youth inside apartheid jail cells and was the recipient of many torture sessions at the hands of the security police.

The moral script he talks about is basically one that says “anything goes”.

In discussions about the nation’s state of affairs, South Africans shake their heads when Zuma’s name comes up. We bemoan his weak leadership, his indecisiveness, his aversion to zipped-up trousers and his misunderstanding of the Constitution and laws he swore to uphold.

Most of all, we bemoan the absence of ethics in his bones and his shameless corruptibility.

As we discuss Zuma, we strain our eyes to the 2019 horizon and sigh deeply about the long years ahead. Collectively, we say: “Five more years of this?”

So as a defence mechanism, we laugh. His weekly gaffes become the stuff of national jokes. He is fodder for comedians, cartoonists and puppeteers.

Social media heaves under the weight of Zuma jokes and parodies. Laughing at him has become our coping mechanism as we wait for the agony to end.

But in our collective despair, we should pause and reflect on whether we should in fact be concerned about Zuma or rather be worried about the people who prop him up.

In our impatience for the Zuma years to end, we should be cautious about looking at the post-Zuma years with optimism. Will those who he leaves behind be any better than he is?

Current evidence suggests not.

Zuma did not put himself in power. He was propelled to the top by a leadership collective that mobilised the masses to rally behind him despite knowing his corruptible ways and his penchant for shady friends.

That leadership collective then raped the justice system to get his fraud and corruption charges dropped. During his years in power, they shut their eyes as the president accumulated more dodgy friends who helped him enrich his family.

The slavish worship of this corruptible individual was in full display last year when senior ANC leaders rushed to protect him as the nation pointed out it was his relationship with the Gupta family that allowed this family and their guests to violate South Africa’s main air base.

Everybody in the ANC is fully aware Zuma has a very unhealthy relationship with the Gupta family, but they choose to do nothing about it.

And having seen him mess up their party and soil their country, these leaders campaigned for him to be retained as ANC president at the party’s 2012 conference. As you read this, they are out there convincing the masses it is in their best interests to have Zuma run the country for another five years.

The response to Madonsela’s investigation and her report on the Nkandla compound is a reflection of the morality of the entire ANC leadership.

As she pointed out in her report this week, everybody – including the ANC leadership – knew back in November 2009 when the Mail & Guardian broke the story of the Nkandla development that expenditure on the compound had ballooned from R27?million to R67?million.

They have known since September 2012, as exclusively reported in this newspaper, that the R67?million had grown to more than R200?million. From subsequent news reports and government documents, they would have known nice luxuries that had nothing to do with security had been added on to the cost of the construction. They now know the final cost will be nearly R250?million.

Throughout this time, the ANC leaders would have noticed Zuma was not in the least bit concerned about the exorbitant amount of taxpayers’ money being spent on his property.

They would have seen his performance in Parliament when he angrily reprimanded opposition politicians for questioning the expenditure, and how he said nothing about the morality of a president being pampered with public money in a country with massive poverty.

In defence of Zuma, government ministers and ANC officials this week resorted to Orwellian spin, telling us Madonsela had failed to find proof of direct political interference in the project. An insult to the intelligence of South Africans, quite frankly.

From left: Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Jeff Radebe, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele and Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa speak at a media briefing in response to the report on Nkandla issued by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela. Picture: Elmond Jiyane/GCIS

The target of ANC anger has instead been Madonsela. It is she who is characterised as Lucifer’s earthly envoy for daring to carry out her constitutional duty of ensuring accountability among those in public office.

If there is going to be a victim of the Nkandla scandal, it is going to be Madonsela and not the happy beneficiary of the R250?million. There will also be some fall guys among the contractors, one of whom is Minenhle Makhanya – who, it must be stressed, is not related to this lowly newspaperman.

When the ANC’s national executive committee meets next weekend, the Nkandla matter is sure to come up. The line of discussion is likely to be an affirmation of confidence in the president’s leadership and integrity.

From ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa down, they will absolve Zuma of his complicity in the building of this monument to corruption. None of them will question the morality of the man who prioritised his comfort above ethics and the laws of the land.

But then, as my friend pointed out, they probably do not see anything wrong with what Zuma does because most of them are probably reading from the same moral script as he is.

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