When Jacob Zuma was sworn in as the fourth democratically elected president on May 9, 2009, South Africa knew it had chose a seriously flawed man as its number one citizen.
The stench of corruption, abuse of power and political interference in the justice system was palpable as hundred of local and foreign dignitaries watched Zuma take the oath of office.
After all, this was a man – who only a few months earlier – who was accused in a serious criminal case of corruption and fraud. The charges were conveniently dropped, controversially so, just in time to allow him to run for office.
Despite this and the fact that Zuma had proved himself to be a scandal-prone politician through the years of holding public office as both a provincial MEC and a deputy president, may seemed willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
The office of the president of South Africa is not one to occupy lightly or frivolously. Nelson Mandela’s nation had dragged the moral leadership bar down to the lowest level.
But not even the most pessimistic of South Africans would have imagined that, four years into his term, Zuma would stand accused of violating the country’s constitution by misleading parliament.
Just more than a year ago, amid the controversy surrounding the R 208 million state spending on ‘security upgrades’ at his private homestead in Nkandla, Kaw-Zulu Natal, the president confidently told the National Assembly that ‘all the building and every room; in the sprawling residence ‘were built by ourselves as a family and not by government. I have never asked government to build a house for me and it has not done so’ he declared.
But, in a preliminary report on her investigation into the saga, public protector Thuli Madonsela says Zuma violated the executive code of ethics by misleading parliament into believing that his family had paid for all the structures at the homestead that are not related to security.
This without doubt, is the most damning finding against the heads of state in the country’s post apartheid era.
The explosive revelations contained in the report explain the recent desperate attempts by security cluster minister to prevent Madonsela from making the report public.
With a few months to go before the general election, the ministers obviously feared that the revelations of the extent of their boss; direct involvement in the scandal would harm the ANC at the polls.
Clearly, there is growing public anger about Nkandla and the government’s attempts to prevent South Africans from knowing the truth. But the solution for the government, whose credibility has been severely damaged by the scandal, does not lie in the suppression of information and intimidating the public protector.
If the administration is to restore its credibility, it should encourage transparency in the matter.
The National Assemble has to probe whether Zuma misled the MP’s when he fielded questions about Nkandla last year.
If, indeed, it is found that Zuma lied, he would have to do the honourable thing and resign from office, because he would have violated his oath of office.
If he refuses to do so, parliament will have to fire him.