It's official: President Jacob Zuma is under investigation. Also under investigation are current and former members of his cabinet, as well as his friends and family.
At the heart of this state capture probe is to officially confirm and put a legal stamp on what we already know: Zuma violated the Constitution of the Republic when he placed his interests and those of his family and friends above those of the Republic.
In so doing, he gave direct and tacit approval to all government officials – from ministers, bureaucrats and leaders of state-owned companies, among others – to do everything in their power not to serve South Africans but to do the bidding of the Guptas.
Multi-national companies from around the world were seemingly given the same impression that all that matters in South Africa is to massage the president’s friends and family for doors to open. It had become an "unofficial official" policy at Eskom, Transnet, Denel and others.
Zuma gave away the executive authority of the Republic, which the Constitution vests only in him to use in the interest of the nation. We must not forget that following two elections, in 2009 and 2014, Zuma entered into a contract with the Republic when he undertook, among other things, to "devote myself to the wellbeing of the Republic and all its people". He also undertook to "promote all that will advance the Republic, and oppose all that may harm it".
The terms of reference of the commission of inquiry on state capture, framed by former public protector Thuli Madonsela and being executed by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, essentially constitute an inquiry on whether the crime of treason was committed.
If an executive of a JSE-listed firm were to face any allegation, even the mildest version of what’s contained in the state capture terms of reference – that he used his position to harm his company – a responsible board of directors would ask the executive concerned to step aside pending an investigation. Similarly, if any government official is under investigation, they are suspended pending the outcome. It’s the right thing to do.
Zuma has suspended many people. Presumably, he knows the significance of suspending a person while they are under investigation. Typically, the reasons are two-fold: to prevent further reputational harm on the institution (be it a company or organ of state) and to ensure the person under investigation does not in any way interfere with the investigation.
But as things stand now, Zuma is the president of the country. Whether we like it or not, he retains the prerogative to appoint and dismiss Cabinet ministers and a number of government functionaries. He approves ministerial travels abroad and signs bills into law. The list of his duties is long.
Technically, the question arises: Why would any government functionary risk their job or some perks by testifying against Zuma, who still wields state power? Some people might argue that, because he is no longer the leader of the ANC he won’t make appointments without the party’s approval. The counter argument is that his relationship with the ANC is not documented in the Constitution of the country.
Regardless of his totally diminished political popularity, he is the president the Republic.
Like private sector executives and state officials who get suspended pending investigation and disciplinary actions against them, Zuma should step aside or Parliament must fire him.
He should have long been fired anyway. The establishment of the commission of inquiry provides the latest justification out of a thousand others that have been ignored for Zuma to go.
He is too conflicted to retain his position as head of state while state officials are preparing themselves to testify against him. There may be Cabinet ministers who might want to spill the beans. But it won’t be possible while he remains in power.
Zuma doesn’t understand conflict of interests and even if he does, he doesn’t care. The question is whether his organisation, the ANC, cares. If it does, it must not dilly-dally and obfuscate issues around managing the transition carefully. It must act in the interest of the people and remove Zuma.
Now that the ANC talks about renewal, one assumes that they will dust off some of their lofty principles. One of those they should look at is their 1996 document entitled State and Social Transformation. It states: "Throughout the years that the ANC led with the slogan – Power to the People! – it waged a determined political and ideological struggle to ensure that, both in theory and in practice, this was not misinterpreted and vulgarised to mean – Power to the ANC!"
In the secret ballot judgment, the Constitutional Court said the slogan "Power to the People!" means all state power and resources are to be used in the interest of the people.
Zuma’s mission while he occupies the presidency is to safeguard his interests. If anything goes wrong now with potential witnesses to the state capture commission of inquiry, the ANC must know that it will be complicit because it failed to get rid of the highly conflicted Zuma.
In fact, keeping Zuma in power now is so reckless it is tantamount to giving Oscar Pistorius an AK47 while he is prison. We know what he is capable of.
Zuma’s AK47, which he uses for private purposes, is the public office he holds. For every minute he remains in office, the ANC is vulgarising its slogan. In short, it is chanting: "Power to Zuma!"
- Mkhabela is with the Department of Political Science at the University of South Africa.
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