Mpumelelo Mkhabela

How Zuma insists on digging his own grave

2018-01-12 08:43
Jacob Zuma at the ANC's elective conference. (Deaan Vivier, Netwerk24)

Jacob Zuma at the ANC's elective conference. (Deaan Vivier, Netwerk24)

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President Jacob Zuma is halfway through digging his political grave. His ardent supporters, who have been showering him with shoddy advice and making a financial killing out of it in return, are screaming: “Keep digging, Mr President!”

It’s a strange reversal of roles in that those who wanted Zuma gone long ago are actually the people whose advice for him to quit would have helped him mitigate the impact of his scandals. He could have negotiated and struck a reasonable political deal while he still had power. Without political power, he has lost the leverage to negotiate anything significant.

On the other hand, his loyalists continue to advise him to make the grave deeper. Could it be that they too want to fit into what might become a mass grave?

There have been several attempts by some loyal ANC leaders, including veterans with no personal vested interests, to try to make him see the light of day.

In the first instance, he received advice to get out of the Nkandla predicament. They said all he needed to do was acknowledge his debt, repay a portion of the cost of the Nkandla upgrades and apologise for the saga.

The unsolicited advice was offered long before ridiculous fire pool performances and ministerial press conferences that resulted in copious amounts of sweat being shed. Understandably, such performances numbed the public with shock. Typical of South Africans, most of us resorted to making fun of the whole thing, creating memes and jokes out of it.

Minister Nathi Nhleko’s press conference will go down in history as the most remarkable for what happens when rationality gives in to something for which I have no word to describe. Nhleko and the ANC Members of Parliament endorsed the Nkandla scandal supposedly because their beloved Zuma could do no wrong.

Today, Nkandla has transformed into an impeachment process. Whether or not the impeachment will succeed at the voting stage is not the issue for now. The issue is that, as determined by the Constitutional Court, Zuma cannot avoid appearing before a parliamentary committee to face an inquiry about his serious violation of the Constitution.

In hindsight, the advice from opposition parties, including the EFF’s chant, “Pay Back the Money!” was also more sound than the grave-digging proposal that came from the ANC.

The second proposal came from United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa. On more than one occasion in Parliament Holomisa proposed to the ANC benches that they craft an exit strategy for Zuma that would guarantee him certain privileges. Not the kind of proposal that would have received universal support because by then Zuma had already angered a lot of people. But Holomisa was prepared to support an initiative that would rid the country of the menace of Zuma.

In one of those parliamentary sittings, Holomisa’s proposal was met with silence from the ANC benches – a sign that they had considered his proposal. On another occasion he was jeered – a sign that they might have been told to openly reject the idea and show support to Zuma. They duly obliged with chants of “Zuma! Zuma! Zuma!”

The third proposal came from a small group of ANC leaders and legal experts. They produced an exit plan to guarantee him a relatively stress-free retirement. The plan came with private sector financial aid for Zuma’s financial needs.

Those in the know believe it was a lot of cash. But the offer could not match the benefits that Zuma appropriates for himself, his family and his friends while he occupies the presidency. It is alleged that Zuma did consider it, but there is speculation that the leeches who survive on his continued occupation of Mahlamba Ndlopfu resisted it. At that time the extent to which the leeches were surviving on his presidency were not known – until #GuptaLeaks revealed it all.

Clearly, no financial aid would satisfy Zuma’s insatiable appetite for free money. Schabir Shaik once complained bitterly that Zuma thought money grew on trees. Needless to remind you, Shaik was convicted for, among other things, bribing Zuma.

A deal to look after only Zuma would not help. You see, he comes as a package with all the crooks who were not satisfied with what they got from state entities and were now training their eyes directly on the National Treasury. They would prefer Zuma to dig his grave for as long they and his family could still feed off public resources – in the form of influence and taxpayer fleecing.

The fourth and consistent call has been the voice of the ANC veterans for Zuma to step down. He tried to shut them down. He even questioned their credentials.

Having rejected all the pleas for him to go with whatever questionable dignity he still had, Zuma might have exhausted the little generosity and sympathy he had from the public. He is so deep into the grave now that any attempt to give him a deal that includes even the most insignificant of immunities will most certainly be subject to legal challenge.

The impeachment route is irreversible. The state capture inquiry cannot be stopped. The courts have concluded that he must be criminally charged. If Zuma continues to stay in power he will soon find himself performing three roles: being a president of the country attending a state capture inquiry as the accused and witness, reporting to court as a suspect for his 783 criminal charges and appearing before Parliament to answer charges of constitutional violation.

Zuma seems to believe he is not down and out. His conduct suggests he believes he has a fighting chance even if dragging things is really the only victory he can hope for and nothing else beyond that. He is one person we can say is prepared to fight to the grave.

Two cautionary points to Cyril Ramaphosa and his group who might have decided to play the so-called “soft, slow game” to allow Zuma to stew in his own mess. Firstly, the ANC is also being swallowed by the mess. (What an unseemly way to mark the organisation’s 106th birthday!)

And lastly, be careful of what a grumpy, wounded and cornered tiger can do if it’s not finished off. Zuma is arguably the biggest risk to the country right now. Even the rand knows it.

- Mkhabela is a political analyst and News24 columnist.

Read more on:    jacob zuma  |  nkandla  |  state capture  |  state capture inquiry

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