Zuma launches graft probes to defuse scandals

2011-09-23 14:15

President Jacob Zuma has launched a probe into a real-estate deal by a former ally, the second major corruption investigation in two weeks, in what analysts called an attempt to defuse scandals that could threaten his party leadership.

Zuma, who faces a possible leadership challenge in ANC next year, announced an investigation yesterday into one-time ally, national police commissioner General Bheki Cele.

A report by the Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, has accused Cele of leasing two old and unsuitable buildings for the police at prices that were above the market rate.

“The president informed the national commissioner that he intends to institute an inquiry into allegations of misconduct,” Zuma’s office said in a statement yesterday.

The president’s investigation into Cele comes days after he appointed a panel to investigate a decade-old $30-billion deal to buy European military equipment. Zuma himself was implicated in that deal as then deputy president.

Political analyst Nic Borain said Zuma had little choice but to launch the investigations, and would potentially face greater political damage if he waited until he was forced to do so.

“He was going to be forced by the constitutional court to institute the arms deal probe, and as a natural consequence of the public protector’s report – he was going to have to do something (in the Cele case),” he said.

“So these are not really choices that he had. He is doing what he had to do and is pre-empting being forced to do it.”

A report in today’s Mail & Guardian newspaper said Zuma had told senior ANC leaders he was prompted to launch the arms deal probe to prevent the constitutional court from forcing the government to re-open an inquiry.

The court was due to rule on November 17 on an application calling on the government to reopen the case.

“He (Zuma) said the ANC and his government were under attack from some reactionaries who go to court for everything,” said an unnamed source quoted by the newspaper.

“They (Zuma and his allies) think the decision to appoint the commission of inquiry will save him.”

Launching the inquiries before he is forced to do so will not completely shield Zuma from potential damage, according to Borain, who said: “It gives him a chance to attack his enemies but it also gives his enemies a chance to attack him.”

The ANC, which has dominated South Africa through two decades since the end of apartheid rule, will elect its top officials including its president at a major conference in the second half of next year.

The party’s secretary-general Gwede Mantashe has said the movement is at its most divided since its creation 99 years ago.

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