ANC MPs turn on Zuma
President’s U-turn on paying back the money angers MPs and party members, who feel ‘used and abused’
President Jacob Zuma’s U-turn in the Constitutional Court – where he agreed to pay what he owes towards the R246 million in public money spent on upgrades to his Nkandla home – has angered ANC MPs who feel their work has been undermined and that he threw them under the bus. A senior ANC source in Parliament said: “They are pissed off – all of them, including members who were in that Nkandla committee. People are feeling used and abused.”
City Press understands that some of the members of the ad hoc committee who worked on Police Minister Nathi Nhleko’s Nkandla report confronted ANC chief whip Stone Sizani last week at a meeting held after Zuma announced that he wanted an independent determination of what he should repay for the non-security upgrades.
“Their words were: ‘The ANC has thrown us under the bus!’ They lost it,” said an MP.
City Press learnt this week that during its work last year, the Nkandla ad hoc committee proposed contracting a security expert to independently determine the cost of Nkandla’s non-security features, but this was shot down by the ANC’s political committee, which manages the party’s strategy in Parliament.
‘But we told you to pay!’
Now MPs feel that, had they been allowed to go ahead, they would have arrived at an amount to pay without being humiliated in court this week.
City Press has spoken to 14 sources in the ANC, 10 of whom are MPs, following Tuesday’s tectonic capitulation by President Zuma in the Constitutional Court, where his advocate, Jeremy Gauntlett, conceded that Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s report was binding and the president would pay back some of the money.
This despite Parliament producing two reports to ostensibly clear the president of wrongdoing.
In addition, Gauntlett asked the court not to find that the president was in breach of his oath of office, as that would open him up to impeachment in Parliament.
One MP who was part of the Nkandla committee confirmed the effort to arrive at an earlier determination of what the president owed, but confirmed they had been vetoed by the ANC’s political committee.
ANC MP Cedric Frolick, who chaired the Nkandla ad hoc committee, and who sources have claimed was part of a group of MPs who quizzed Sizani, was tight-lipped.
“We are not going to discuss the Nkandla matter until it’s been handled by the court,” said Frolick. “We respect the separation of powers. The matter is before the courts.”
Speaking at a New Age breakfast gathering on Friday, Zuma said that paying back the money did not mean that he admitted any wrongdoing, and he had never said he was unwilling to pay.
“I hear people say I changed my mind. I have not. How could I pay when I did not know how much? I never said I would not pay in any formal setting.”
Spokesperson for the ANC caucus Moloto Mothapo denied any unhappiness in the ANC, saying: “I am not aware of any displeasure from our MPs.” He added that the party was awaiting the outcome of the court case and would respect the ruling.
That’s not the end
However, ANC MPs are expected to vent their anger at next Thursday’s caucus meeting and it is expected that the issue will also be raised at the party’s national executive committee (NEC) meeting next month.
“The next NEC meeting is the one that is likely to see this matter coming to the fore,” said an MP.
An alliance insider said many people were angry because “they advised him to pay long before. The ANC top six also advised that”.
He said the anger was directed at the fact that Zuma chose to listen to a lawyer this week, but disregarded the same advice from the ANC years ago.
“Once Zuma is under pressure, he changes without taking you into his confidence,” said the insider. He said Madonsela’s Nkandla report had provided a golden opportunity, because she had not prescribed an amount to be repaid, “so he could have easily paid back then”.
“Instead, Nhleko is now left with egg on his face. He had to be roped in to make up stories to protect the president, only to be tossed aside now and have his report disregarded.”
Another Nkandla ad hoc committee member said it was incorrect for Zuma’s lawyer to tell the Constitutional Court that Nhleko’s report had no legal standing, as Nhleko had been acting on the recommendations of Parliament.
The MP said that Gauntlett’s utterances undermined Parliament, “which reigns supreme”.
“All these people, the president, the chapter 9 institutions and Nhleko, account to Parliament. You can’t rubbish Parliament and Nhleko. Chapter 9 institutions account to Parliament, not vice versa. Nhleko acted on the recommendations of the second ad hoc committee on Nkandla,” said the MP.
“This thing humiliates the [whole] ANC more than anyone else. I mean the entire party, ministers and the Speaker [Baleka Mbete] as leader in Parliament. She [is meant to] brief the caucus and chairpersons of [parliamentary committees] based on her proximity and access to the president.”
Two ANC MPs said Zuma was not obliged to inform the party caucus of his change in legal strategy.
City Press has also learnt that the first time advocates Lindi Nkosi-Thomas and William Mokhari discovered Zuma’s legal strategy had changed was when Advocate Jeremy Gauntlett addressed the court.
The two experienced silks were left floundering and embarrassed.
“Their arguments just didn’t allow for that [change],” a source close to the case told City Press. “That’s why they were wrong-footed, because they had an ally who hadn’t told them [about the change] – not only an ally, but the man they had been protecting hadn’t told them.”
Sources close to Nhleko and Mbete’s counsel told City Press that Gauntlett’s concessions went directly against their line of defence.
“Nhleko’s counsel, William Mokhari, and Mbete’s counsel, Lindi NkosiThomas, were going to argue access to the court and challenge the legal standing of the recommendations. This, however, changed when Gauntlett made concessions,” said a source close to Mokhari and Nkosi-Thomas.
“They were taken by surprise when they heard the concessions in court. That rendered their arguments baseless, and they could not even get briefs from their clients.”
Mokhari betrayed his bewilderment by saying in court: “In the past few days, the train has been moving too fast, almost leaving us behind.”
A second source close to the case said: “I think Gauntlett definitely threw them under the bus. Big concessions were made while he was on his feet.”
The change in tactic has been interpreted by those close to the case as Zuma’s genuine fear that his presidency could be under threat.
“This is a delicate time in a dangerous year,” Gauntlett pleaded with the court. “If this court rules against the president, it leaves the door wide open to impeachment.”
Another source close to the case said: “The question of impeachment hadn’t been mentioned … It was bewildering that Gauntlett mentioned it when no one had even hinted at it in papers, and it seemed to signal a real fear.”
“What they seem to have decided to do was to make a concession to pay back the money, but to at all costs avoid a declaratory order that they had violated the Constitution,” said the first source.
The Constitutional Court has not yet set a date for judgment, but the sources said that despite Gauntlett’s slew of concessions, there was no guarantee the court would pull its punches.
Drama in court