Zuma on back foot in courts and party
SA could soon have a criminal suspect as president. This follows Jacob Zuma’s astounding concession in the Supreme Court of Appeal on Thursday that the decision to drop the 783 charges of corruption, fraud and racketeering against him was, indeed, irrational.
As Zuma’s second term draws to a close, there is push-back against him and his faction in the ANC — in the legal and political arenas. His response and that of the party could break both.
On the legal front, Zuma will probably be on the receiving end of a scathing appeal court judgment in the wake of his concession — after eight-and-a-half years, seven courts and millions of taxpayer rand on legal fees.
The president has clearly decided that if he must face charges, he would prefer sycophantic national prosecutions head Shaun Abrahams to deal with them, even if his chosen saviour has proved to be transparently captured given his conduct in the Pravin Gordhan matter. Zuma is also essentially Abrahams’s boss.
Zuma also faces an impeachment case before the Constitutional Court following another belated concession, this time by National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete, which could lead to a full parliamentary inquiry into the president’s handling of the Nkandla case. In that matter, Mbete conceded in an affidavit the day before the Constitutional Court heard the case that it was within Parliament’s powers and rules to set up an ad hoc committee to inquire into Zuma’s conduct.
Another embarrassment for Zuma this week was the startling disclosure that Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane met Zuma’s legal advisers and the State Security Agency before handing down her report, in which she recommended changing the mandate of the Reserve Bank, a finding that has since been set aside by the courts.
Zuma ’s decision to reshuffle the Cabinet based on a bogus intelligence report in March is being challenged, and he is fighting former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s recommendation that a judicial commission of inquiry into state capture be appointed by the chief justice.
In all cases, the political terrain is vastly different from what it was when the DA initiated the spy tapes review eight-and-a-half years ago.
This week, the political ground slipped beneath the Zuma faction in the ANC when the KwaZulu-Natal provincial executive committee, led by Zuma ally Sihle Zikalala, was in effect dissolved by a court judgment that deemed their election in 2015 unlawful and void.
While Zikalala and company rushed to say they would appeal, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said the party must be consulted at national level first. An appeal would just delay the inevitable and could compromise the ANC’s national conference in December if allowed to proceed. The ANC national executive committee is meeting on Monday to sketch a way forward.
Zuma and his allies in the national executive committee are responsible for the provincial elective conference going ahead prematurely, despite protestations from Mantashe, and now that body will have to deal with the consequences of its actions.
In the Eastern Cape, it is Zuma’s forces who are using the courts to battle for control. A provincial conference is set for the end of September and the camp loyal to Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa seems to be in the lead.
Zuma’s loyal lieutenant in the Free State, Ace Magashule, is on the defence against his Ramaphosa-aligned deputy, Thabo Manyoni. The province received its final audit report last Friday but is putting off an executive committee meeting to decide on a conference date because Magashule is no longer as confident as he was.
A bigger headache for Zuma is the weakness of his preferred successor. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign has been lacklustre, hence her entry into Parliament and likely entry into the Cabinet.
It is all interrelated, the legal and the political.
The fact that 34 ANC MPs voted for the motion of no confidence in Zuma in August despite the party’s culture of loyalty above all indicated that the parliamentary caucus is no longer a safe space for him. An ad hoc committee into his handling of Nkandla now would have a vastly different flavour to the one that exonerated him in 2015.
As the noose tightens, expect more surprise concessions and last-minute deals on offer from Zuma. Remember, it was he who suggested that the losing candidate in December should be deputy president.
It remains to be seen whether the ANC will do what it has done for the past decade and fall in line with Zuma’s wishes or finally draw a line in the sand to end the madness that has gripped party and country since Polokwane in 2007.
IN ALL CASES THE POLITICAL TERRAIN IS VASTLY DIFFERENT FROM WHAT IT WAS WHEN THE DA INITIATED THE SPY TAPES REVIEW