The real sickness is not seeing the conflict

2013-07-21 14:00

President Jacob Zuma says City Press is sick.

Speaking at a Masibambisane harvesting function in Dutywa, Eastern Cape, on Wednesday – three days after we revealed government departments were planning to hand over R895?million to Zuma’s NGO to run the state’s food security programme – Zuma lashed out at his critics who don’t recognise success.

“We should be encouraging people to stand up and emulate what these people are doing. We should not be criticising if we were a healthy nation. There is a sickness,” said an upset Zuma.

Zuma’s anger is understandable. The harvesting function was supposed to be a celebration ahead of Mandela Day. Flanked by Cabinet ministers, Zuma put on his green Masibambisane overalls and braced the rainy weather to show off what he and his cousin Deebo Mzobe have achieved.

And then we spoiled the party by publishing details of this blatant conflict of interest the president is at the centre of. Our exposé was followed by a Daily Dispatch report that Eastern Cape alone had donated R250?million to Masibambisane.

Zuma’s argument probably goes something like this: he and his cousin, who runs Masibambisane, are trying to do a good thing – feeding people. To do this, they need money. Why does it matter where the money comes from? Can’t we just leave them alone?

Because he is the president, the answer is “no”. As head of state, Zuma wields considerable power over ministers, government officials and their budgets. So if the president wants something, he is likely to get it.

But ours is a constitutional state with rules and laws, and checks and balances. The spending of every tax cent is planned and budgeted for by the Treasury.

Zuma can’t just go around handing out tractors, houses and food without due process having been followed. What makes matters worse is that Mzobe is at the helm of things.

As we show this week, Mzobe is hardly rolling in cash, which makes the question of whether he benefits from Masibambisane even more pertinent.

If Zuma’s agriculture and rural development ministers can’t do the jobs they are paid for, they should be fired. But they aren’t – their work is outsourced to Number 1’s family.

And then Zuma gets upset and calls us sick when we ask the hard questions.

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