Ralph Mathekga

Zuma to stop 'Seriti-proof' commission at all cost

2016-11-28 08:02

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President Jacob Zuma is going to approach the court to seek review of former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s report on state capture. This is not a surprise move, especially for those who have been paying attention to what Zuma has been saying about the report since its release to the public.

Since its release Zuma has been attacking the report in public and in Parliament. He has repeatedly said that Madonsela’s investigations into state capture were done in a “funny” way. What drives Zuma even madder is that the recording of the interview he had with Madonsela, in which he stubbornly refuses to answer simple questions, was released to eNCA. For Zuma, the entire report is based on baseless rumours that the Gupta family has been single-handedly deploying ministers to cabinet and firing those that are not cooperative to their projects.

While Madonsela’s report did not make any conclusive findings against Zuma, it raised serious concerns about specific decisions regarding cabinet posts, particularly the decision to fire former Treasury Minister Nhlanhla Nene and replace him with Des van Rooyen. More worrying to Zuma is the recommendation that a commission of inquiry should be appointed to further investigate the allegations that there might have been state capture underway. What upsets Zuma about this recommendation is Madonsela’s insistence that only the chief justice should appoint the judge to chair the commission. Of course Madonsela wanted to make sure that the commission is Seriti-proof!

A Seriti-proof commission of inquiry is a commission that actually does the job independently, as opposed to the arms deal commission that was chaired by the executive-minded Judge Willie Seriti. Seriti was appointed by Zuma to chair the arms deal commission. Therefore, in order to ensure a commission does the job, the best thing is to ensure Zuma does not get to appoint the judge who would chair the commission. The first thing that Zuma will complain to the court about is the constitutionality of Madonsela’s recommendation that Zuma should not be allowed to get his hands on the commission, either by appointing the judge or by setting the terms of reference for the commission. 

Under normal circumstances it would indeed be necessary for the court to clarify the matter regarding whether a commission of inquiry can be put in place by the president after which he would not be allowed to appoint a judge or set the terms of reference for the commission. The question might be simple to answer in relation to the Zuma matter because indeed he is compromised and he will infect each and every institution he get his hands on, including the commission of inquiry.

The question is however more complicated when one considers its constitutional implication beyond Zuma the person. Beyond Zuma, the question then has to do with how to reasonably and constitutionally limit the power of a president to appoint a commission of inquiry. In doing so, would that not bear a negative impact on the executive privilege of the president to set up commissions as provided for in the Constitution?

Because of the nature of this question, it is therefore acceptable that Zuma approaches the court to seek clarity on this matter, in principle. However, given our experience with Zuma’s leadership, it is clear he is not interested in seeking clarity on this matter; he is only interested in stalling the process of the creation of a commission of inquiry. 

Zuma has no intention to get to the crux of state capture and reveal the extent to which the Guptas might own South Africa.

Zuma’s tactic of going to court and ask clarity on questions he has no interest in reminds me of some of those naughty kids I went to primary school with. There was always this kid who would raise his hand and ask questions that were only aimed at delaying the teacher from getting to today’s homework. This is because the kid would not have done their homework. The kid’s silly plan was always to ask such questions until the end of the class. Of course teachers have dealt with lazy kids for years and they have heard the ‘the dog ate my homework’ story too often not to see through the kid who plays delaying tactics in class.

Zuma plans to ask those silly questions about the State of Capture report in court, probably to buy time to figure out a political way to make this report go away once and for all. His aim is to ensure he does not have to do anything that would compromise his position. The opposition parties seem to be ready to derail Zuma’s plan this time.

* Ralph Mathekga is an independent political analyst and author of the book When Zuma Goes. He writes a weekly column for News24.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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