Immune to shame

2016-04-12 06:00

LAST Friday afternoon, a media alert arrived from the ANC announcing that a press conference would be held at 8 pm that night on the outcome of the meeting of the party’s top six officials.

The ANC’s national officials had met that day to discuss the outcome of the Constitutional Court case on the Nkandla matter.

As news spread of the media briefing, speculation grew that a big announcement might be coming of the ANC taking action against President Jacob Zuma for violating the Constitution in his treatment of the public protector’s report on Nkandla.

Then a second alert arrived, this time from the Presidency, announcing that Zuma would make a live address to the nation at 7 pm.

My phone started ringing and did not stop for the next hour as expectation grew that the president would be making an explosive announcement, possibly that he was accepting an ANC decision to recall him or had decided to resign himself.

I eventually switched my phone off so I could think.

This was Zuma, a person with no ability for self-reflection, personal accountability or remorse.

Since he became president, he has never put the country’s interests above his own. There was no way he would fall on his sword.

What ensued on Friday night was a farce followed by a cover-up.

Zuma offered an apology for the “confusion” caused by the Nkandla fiasco, not for his role in dragging the matter out and refusing for almost two years to pay back the money for non-security upgrades at his home, or for undermining the Office of the Public Protector.

The briefing by ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe was to applaud the president and fend off calls for action against Zuma.

This caused an explosion of outrage over the past week, with ANC veterans, religious organisations, civil society leaders and prominent South Africans standing up to denounce the president and call for his resignation.

An attempt by opposition parties to impeach the president in Parliament failed but the debate exposed that the ANC has no real defence for Zuma’s conduct.

The ANC’s refusal to hold the president to account has led to an awakening in civil society with a new mobilisation campaign launched against Zuma.

One of the most poignant public letters came from a group of activists from across the African continent asking Zuma to set the example for “visionary, ethical and imaginative leadership” in Africa.

“South Africa has a heritage of leadership that listens to its people … We ask you now to dig deep within your soul, rise above your denial and patronage network, and surprise us by continuing this robust tradition of leaders who know when to rise up and step down.

“We, the young people of Africa, will be the authors of your history and legacy. Do not be the first South African president who let power trump the people. Your resignation will show the rest of Africa that South Africa can still provide guidance and wisdom, that leaders do make mistakes, but they own up to them and bear the consequences,” the group of activists said.

There have been many such earnest appeals to Zuma’s conscience, including from the elders in the ANC and children born in exile.

But they have all fallen on deaf ears.

On Thursday, a week after the damning Constitutional Court judgment, Zuma launched an attack on the judicial system.

Addressing traditional leaders in Pretoria, Zuma said courts of law could not be trusted. “I think we can resolve these matters in an African way, not through the law,” said Zuma.

After promising to abide by the Constitutional Court ruling, Zuma is now seeking a mechanism outside the Constitution to override the judicial system.

Our president is a man who has parted ways with his moral compass and is immune to shame.

His inability to distinguish right from wrong is now a danger to our democracy.

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