Zuma’s about to turn

2016-02-09 06:00

AN e-mail popped onto my computer screen at 10.18 pm on Tuesday.

I clicked on it immediately when I saw it was from the presidency and had “Nkandla” in the subjected line.

After the Finance minister juggling act in December 2015, I have learnt not to ignore late-night e-mails from the president’s office.

The statement said Zuma’s attorneys had written to the Constitutional Court proposing he pay back a portion of the costs for the upgrades at his Nkandla residence, as recommended by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela.

I had the same reaction as when I received the messages announcing Nhlanhla Nene’s firing and later, the appointment of Pravin Gordhan to his old job as Finance minister.

I was frozen in disbelief, then I contemplated the possibility that the presidency’s e-mail account had been hacked and then I sat wondering what goes on to prompt these late-night manoeuvres in the country’s highest office.

For nearly two years since the public protector’s investigation report was released, Zuma has steadfastly refused to comply with Madonsela’s recommendations. The ANC fought tooth and nail to protect the president from having to pay back the money, including through several sham ad hoc committee processes in Parliament.

Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko also conducted his own whitewash investigation into the renovations, declaring that all the upgrades were necessary security measures, including the swimming pool, cattle kraal and chicken run.

Zuma has said several times, including in Parliament, that he would not pay back the money because he did not ask for the upgrades, no investigation had found him guilty of “taking a penny” and he was not obliged to comply with “mere recommendations” of the public protector.

After countless attempts to hold the president accountable in Parliament, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) asked the Constitutional Court to determine whether Zuma’s response to the public protector’s report was constitutional.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) and Madonsela have joined in the application, set down to be heard on Tuesday.

Zuma’s proposal to the Constitutional Court was presented as a gesture of goodwill to bring “an end to the drawn-out dispute”.

But the parties involved in the application are proceeding with the case as they want the court to reaffirm the public protector’s powers and compel Zuma to implement all the remedial action spelt out in Madonsela’s report.

EFF leader Julius Malema said at a media briefing that he wants Zuma to accept he has breached the Constitution and his oath of office. “This is not a case between Zuma and the EFF. This is a case to reaffirm the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa and to protect Chapter 9 institutions,” said Malema.

So on Tuesday, the country will be faced with the extraordinary situation where the judges of the highest court in the land will have to consider whether the country’s first citizen has acted in contravention of the Constitution and his oath of office.

It is not a desirable situation for any country to be in. The presidency should be an office that is treated with respect, both by the incumbent and the citizens of our nation. Instead, we have a situation where the president is not trusted because many people do not believe he is acting in the country’s interests.

Zuma has said publicly that he believes the ANC comes before South Africa. It is clear from the way he has handled the Nkandla matter that his own interests take precedence over that of the country and even the ANC, which has suffered damage and loss of support as a result.

Zuma was advised several times to pay a token amount for the Nkandla upgrades so that the matter could be closed. He believed this was an admission of guilt and refused. Now he has to face the ignominy of being dragged before the Constitutional Court for the judges to consider whether he betrayed the nation.

Zuma is truly is own worst enemy.

• Ranjeni Munusamy is a political journalist and commentator for the Daily Maverick. ranjeni.munusamy@gmail.com

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