Zuma interview: clever act or delusion?

Hanging on for dear life - President Jacob Zuma. (Gianluigi Guercia, AFP)
Hanging on for dear life - President Jacob Zuma. (Gianluigi Guercia, AFP)

A deranged, out-of-touch man? Or a clever show?

These are the questions South Africans are asking about President Jacob Zuma, after he spoke out for the first time since the ANC national executive committee (NEC) recalled him during the early hours of Tuesday.

Zuma gave an exclusive interview to the SABC on Wednesday afternoon to "give context" to the discussions around his exit as president and set right what he termed an "incorrect narrative that is being put out there".

"Zuma has been distancing himself for a while from what is going on on the ground and surrounded himself with people that have agreed with him on everything," political analyst Mpumelelo Mkhabela said. "He doesn't understand that there is great anger directed at him in the country and in the ANC. He's come across as deranged and out of touch."

During the interview, Zuma said that he had initially agreed to resign but, to smooth over the transition from his presidency to Cyril Ramaphosa's, he proposed that he stay on as president until after June. The proposal was rejected by the ANC's top 6 officials.

"He contradicts himself because he says he has agreed to go, but has his own package which includes that he will only go after June. But, in that case, he will be gone before the end of his term anyway, which would imply that he has done something wrong," Mkhabela says. "It makes no sense."

During the interview, Zuma insisted that he has done nothing wrong and that the ANC could not give him satisfactory reasons for recalling him.

"The whole of 2016 this matter has been raised. In the NEC itself there were two major discussions and I don't see anything new that's been brought," he said.

"I then asked what it is that I have done and that it is now being raised… Unfortunately, no one has been able to say what I have done."

Phephelaphi Dube, director of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, said the fact there was a Constitutional Court ruling that Zuma had broken his oath of office is why the ANC and the country was in this position in the first place.

"The bottom line is that there has been a failure of oversight from the ANC and the National Assembly to hold Zuma to account and this will probably end up in the courts again. At the end of the day, we have to ask if our political parties are doing enough to hold the people we have elected to account," she said.

Professor Susan Booysen, of the Wits School of Governance, said Zuma's interview was all part of a clever act to play the victim.

"He continues to say that he is being treated unfairly. This is probably the most incredulous part of that interview," she said.

"It's a framed, fake innocence that he uses so well. I am so sure that he is actually very well in touch. He knows the hostility against him. It is the uniform he wears to pretend that he's innocent. He's been living the reality of what he's been doing wrong for a very long time."

Zuma said he was not happy with the ANC's reason for recalling him - that they wanted to avoid having two centres of power. Critics were quick to point out that this was part of the reason he campaigned to replace former president Thabo Mbeki in 2009.

"Mbeki must have laughed when he heard that," Mkhabela said. "Zuma said that his recall caused a lot of problems in the ANC. But if that was the case, he had ample opportunity as leader of the party to set it right by making a move in the party or apologising to Mbeki. But he has no moral standing now to make such assertions."

According to Booysen, what Zuma is really lamenting is the fact that he no longer has power within the ANC.

"It's a new ANC that is in there. It's not his old Zuma-dominated ANC that is in power. He can really not lament the treatment he's getting from them. His statement today will illicit very little sympathy with the South African public," she said.

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