Zuma ‘is no lame duck’

2011-10-24 14:11

Two-and-a-half years into his term, he is unable to act on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Sicelo Shiceka or on national police commissioner General Bheki Cele, despite findings against them by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela. Now also faced with a faction that wants to topple him at the ANC’s elective conference in Mangaung next year in light of the Oilgate scandal’s Donen Commission, among other things, is the president in stasis? We spoke to his recently appointed spokesperson, veteran politician Mac Maharaj, to find out

Why has President Jacob Zuma decided to release the Donen Commission report only now?
The first thing about it is that it is an incomplete report in the sense that the parties were never given an opportunity to interrogate the evidence. Not all evidence was taken under oath so there is that incompleteness. When the report is released you will see that even (Michael) Donen and his colleagues make that observation.

That is why there has been a major, major problem about releasing the report.

Nonetheless, it has been in the public space and it has generated a lot of debate.

And one of the media houses has even gone to court and others have threatened to go to court – all in the (name of) the Promotion of Access to Information Act. We live in a society that is going through the process of how to implement this law and give it effect.

So it’s in that context that the Donen Commission report arises and the president, looking at all angles of the matter through consulting his colleagues, has come to the view that he must not take a uni-dimensional approach.

Having taken everything into account including the court action, the nature of the issues involved and the report’s incompleteness, we have indicated that the report will be released by the 7th (December).

That is out of courtesy to people who are named in the report to have an opportunity to see the report and prepare whatever comments they want to make and take whatever steps they wish to.

Have you considered the ramifications of releasing the report within the current political context, for example, the fact that there is an ANC elective conference next year?
All aspects of the issue need to be taken into account. There is no question that can separate the governance of a country from the politics of the country.

But no single issue has been overriding except the question: what is the subject matter? What is in the interest of the public? And what do we do given that there are court actions?

And we know, the president knows, whatever he does, the climate of opinion among many opinion-makers is such that if he didn’t release it, he’d be accused of hiding information. If he releases it, he’s accused of acting vindictively?

Nowhere are you allowing in the paradigm of your possibilities the fact that he does take the national interest into account as well.

Why has it taken the president so long to act on the Public Protector’s findings on national police commissioner General Bheki Cele and Cooperative Governance Minister Sicelo Shiceka?
It has taken long because the Public Protector’s final report had to be put on the table. Whatever the president decides, he must ensure that he doesn’t just do the right thing, but that he does it the right way.

You need to ensure that they are given the opportunity to respond. And the president has emphasised that he is following due process.

There is a perception that the president lacks the courage to confront Cele and Shiceka because perhaps he is scared that they might defy him. Is that a consideration at all?

It tells you more about the people who raise questions about the perception than about the president. If you talk about courage, bravery and fearlessness then I think you got President Zuma completely wrong if you question that.

The second thing is that many of the commentators who create perceptions?.?.?.?are themselves the ones who never wanted him as a president.

Is there a time frame to the president making up his mind?

No. What I can assure you of is the president’s commitment to deal with this matter as soon as possible.

What is your response to the perception that he has become a lame-duck president?

There may well be elements to it. But it’s a lazy analysis. I say lazy because it is common throughout the world in elected democratic systems, (because) presidents have a limited term of office, to treat the last year or two of the term as a period of a lame-duck president. Now I think that doesn’t do justice to your readership.

Would you say President Zuma is still firmly in control, irrespective of what the public or the media might think?

I wouldn’t like to put it that way. I’d like to say the president’s deeply ingrained commitment to working by means of gathering the broadest possible unity remains firmly in steering this country. He is not spending sleepless nights (not worried) about that.

When he wakes up in the morning, when he goes abroad and is doing things in the country there is hardly any evidence that his mind is wondering whether ‘tomorrow I’m going to fall’. I think you can see that his mind remains firmly on the job at hand.

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