Zuma faces a litmus test in wake of Mac affair

2011-11-26 10:58

President Jacob Zuma’s spokesperson, Mac Maharaj, now presents him with a conundrum.

Two weeks ago, I wrote that “Zuma’s political fate will not be sealed by our granting or withdrawal of praise, nor will it be sealed by one set of actions.

His fate will be decided by members of his party on the basis of whether this set of actions is part of a broader trend of democratic accountability or a drop in an ocean of public looting by people close to him.”

Well, we hardly batted an eyelid when allegations of wrongdoing by Maharaj surfaced. At the heart of these allegations is that when Maharaj was transport minister, he allegedly received third-party payments for awarding contracts for credit card driver’s licences to French company Thales.

The rights of the citizen must be protected, and so must those of the state, which represents the rest of us. While it would be wrong
for newspapers to break the law in pursuit of the man, it would be equally wrong to sweep the allegations under the carpet if there is evidence of wrongdoing.

I was therefore taken aback when I heard President Zuma suggest that the allegations must await the arms deal commission.

Am I missing something? What does the granting of a contract for credit card driver’s licences have to do with arms? Given the momentum of decisiveness that the president has kept up over the past few weeks, he cannot afford to slam on the brakes because someone close to him is potentially in trouble.

If the president was perceived to be protecting Maharaj, then that would give credence to allegations of selective justice. What complicates matters further is the nature of Maharaj’s job.

As it turns out, Maharaj may turn out to be more of a liability than the president bargained for.

It looks like Maharaj is going to spend more time being the story than shaping the story. Every press conference he calls will be dominated by questions about him and not what the presidency is seeking to convey.

And people being people will be pondering all sorts of questions while he is trying to communicate.

In his book The American Commonwealth, James Bryce perceptively observed that corruption amounts to more than just the exchange of jobs or contracts for favours.

Corruption ultimately leads to a fatal “political unsoundness” in the body politic. It would be better if Maharaj were to step down to devote more time towards clearing the foul smell of the allegations of corruption.

Otherwise, President Zuma should send a strong message by asking Mac to step aside, as he has done with other senior ANC members.

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