Zuma has a higher duty

CityPress - - Voices & Careers - Thuli Madonsela voices@city­press.co.za

The Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor re­port ti­tled Se­cure in Com­fort be­gins with a quote from US Supreme Court Jus­tice Louis D Bran­deis, which says: “Our gov­ern­ment is the po­tent, the om­nipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole peo­ple by its ex­am­ple… If the gov­ern­ment be­comes a law breaker, it breeds con­tempt for law; it in­vites ev­ery man to be­come a law unto him­self...”

The essence of the quote is that there is a higher duty on those who make and en­force the laws to be ex­em­plary in com­ply­ing with them. It fur­ther says that if gov­ern­ment is seen to vi­o­late the law with im­punity, it un­wit­tingly gives per­mis­sion to the pop­u­lace to adopt law­less­ness.

This quote from the 2014 re­port where I found that Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma had acted un­eth­i­cally in breach of the Ex­ec­u­tive Ethics Code and the Con­sti­tu­tion by al­low­ing and im­prop­erly ben­e­fit­ing from state-funded lux­u­ri­ous and un­nec­es­sary ren­o­va­tions at his Nkandla pri­vate home­stead in the name of se­cu­rity came to mind re­cently, when a ran­dom tweet cap­tured my at­ten­tion.

The tweet be­moaned Pres­i­dent Zuma’s at­ten­dance at a re­li­gious event hosted by the Gupta fam­ily – a fam­ily of In­dian origin that has been in South Africa since the eve of democ­racy and al­legedly has close ties with the Zuma fam­ily. Im­plied in the tweet was that Zuma shouldn’t have at­tended.

Pres­i­dent Zuma’s con­duct fol­lowed se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tions of state cap­ture, specif­i­cally al­leg­ing that he may have acted wrong­fully by en­abling or al­low­ing the Gupta fam­ily, who co-own Oak­bay In­vest­ments and other en­ter­prises with his son, to cor­ruptly in­flu­ence the dis­missal and re­place­ment of Fi­nance Min­is­ter Nh­lanhla Nene in De­cem­ber 2015. It was also al­leged that such cor­rupt in­flu­ence ex­tended to other ap­point­ments and re­moval of Cabi­net mem­bers, state-owned en­ter­prise board mem­bers and heads of strate­gic gov­ern­ment ad­min­is­tra­tions reg­u­lat­ing in­dus­tries where the Gup­taZuma-owned en­ter­prises op­er­ate.

It was said that the re­sult­ing cor­rupt in­flu­ence is lever­aged to en­able Gupta-Zuma-owned com­pa­nies to re­ceive ten­ders or state con­tracts, un­due pay­ments and pref­er­en­tial treat­ment in ac­cess to trad­ing li­cences and pub­lic fi­nance meant to ad­vance black eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment.

There is no ques­tion that, by at­tend­ing said event, Pres­i­dent Zuma placed him­self in the po­si­tion of frater­nising with per­sons who are ac­cused of cor­ruptly un­der­min­ing the democ­racy he is sworn to pro­tect and ad­vance, and whose peo­ple he should put first.

I won­dered if the pres­i­dent, as the teacher in chief of the democ­racy we’ve signed up to be­come, to bor­row Jus­tice Bran­deis’ metaphor, is send­ing a good mes­sage to the na­tion. Clearly there is no law that for­bids him or any other per­son from frater­nising with those ac­cused of break­ing the law that they are sworn to pro­tect. Ac­cord­ingly, it can only be a mat­ter of ethics, which is about do­ing the right thing the right way.

Is the pres­i­dent obliged to do the right thing? The an­swer is yes. It is his con­sti­tu­tional re­spon­si­bil­ity to act eth­i­cally. It dic­tates that Pres­i­dent Zuma and other state func­tionar­ies ought to al­ways act demo­crat­i­cally and in ac­cor­dance with the high­est level of pro­fes­sional ethics.

We also can’t help but ask, in line with Jus­tice Bran­deis’ mes­sage, whether Pres­i­dent Zuma’s is a good les­son to be em­u­lated by oth­ers. Should we ex­pect the coun­te­nance his frater­nising with a per­son or per­sons al­leged to be un­der­min­ing the com­pany’s poli­cies, ob­jec­tives and rep­u­ta­tion or brand? I don’t think so. It is most likely that a re­la­tion­ship with such a per­son(s) would be placed on ice, so to speak, un­til the al­le­ga­tions were re­solved.

Pres­i­dent Zuma may also be un­wit­tingly teach­ing on the treat­ment of whis­tle-blow­ers. His treat­ment of whis­tle-blower, for­mer deputy min­is­ter of fi­nance, Mce­bisi Jonas, can’t be said to be con­gru­ent with the spirit of the Pro­tected Dis­clo­sures Act, which seeks to en­cour­age and in­su­late whis­tle-blow­ers from reprisals.

This, and Pres­i­dent Zuma’s fir­ing of min­is­ters who had not shown un­ques­tion­ing loy­alty to him in the wake of the Nkandla and state cap­ture scan­dals, sug­gests that the les­son for oth­ers is the Ar­me­nian proverb that says: “He who speaks the truth must have one foot in the stir­rup.” If so, is Pres­i­dent Zuma’s teach­ing con­sis­tent with the spirit of the Pro­tected Dis­clo­sures Act and the coun­try’s an­ti­cor­rup­tion quest? Where does that leave whis­tle-blow­ing, which is es­sen­tial for end­ing cor­rup­tion?

Pres­i­dent Zuma’s en­gage­ment with com­mu­ni­ties in re­sponse to the scan­dals he faces is even more con­fus­ing. Hav­ing re­vis­ited Ge­orge Or­well’s An­i­mal Farm re­cently, I found a lot of par­al­lels in the mes­sag­ing, par­tic­u­larly the blam­ing of ev­ery­thing on Snow­ball and hu­mans, as well as cre­at­ing ran­dom new nar­ra­tives in the wake of, and that de­tract from, an im­por­tant na­tional ques­tion. Here we are as a na­tion faced with al­le­ga­tions of state cap­ture. The pres­i­dent re­sponds by ad­dress­ing crowds and say­ing no word about the real dis­pute and his re­sponse to the al­le­ga­tions against him. In­stead he en­gages on a new nar­ra­tive of not be­ing wanted for speak­ing out in favour of rad­i­cal eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion (RET). That’s be­side the fact that, with the new min­is­ter of fi­nance say­ing RET means the same as in­clu­sive eco­nomic growth, which was the nar­ra­tive of the ousted min­is­ter of fi­nance’s last bud­get vote in Fe­bru­ary 2017, it is un­clear what the prob­lem is. The pres­i­dent goes on to say black peo­ple should unite when the Con­sti­tu­tion re­quires him to be the chief teacher on build­ing a united non­ra­cial and non­sex­ist South Africa. But he is sup­posed to be ev­ery­body’s pres­i­dent, not one for black peo­ple only or for those that vote for his party. What les­son does this en­tail for a so­cial jus­tice-based democ­racy?

We should also be con­cerned about the les­son from the fact that un­der­per­form­ers and scan­dal-rid­dled pub­lic rep­re­sen­ta­tives re­main safe in po­si­tions re­quir­ing com­pe­tence and trust­wor­thi­ness.

Another odd tweet I read drew par­al­lels between the sur­vival and as­cen­dancy tac­tics of these to those of Napoleon’s right hand pig, Squealer, the cock­erel and the dogs in the al­le­gor­i­cal An­i­mal Farm. If this ob­ser­va­tion is cor­rect, what is be­ing taught to oth­ers on how to be­have to suc­ceed in the South Africa we are build­ing?

Hav­ing just cel­e­brated April 27, mark­ing the be­gin­ning of the 24th year of our prized democ­racy jour­ney, we ask our­selves: Will Pres­i­dent Zuma’s teach­ings through word and deed bring us closer to the con­sti­tu­tion­ally promised South Africa where ev­ery­one’s po­ten­tial is freed and lives im­proved?

Is our teacher in chief teach­ing us the right lessons for our quest for a democ­racy that is cen­tred on ethics and the rule of law? Is it pos­si­ble that Pres­i­dent Zuma is giv­ing per­mis­sion for a sys­temic con­tempt for the law and ethics par­a­digm, which the open­ing re­marks in the Nkandla re­port warn against? If so, is this con­sis­tent with his con­sti­tu­tional re­spon­si­bil­i­ties? It is for the peo­ple to judge. Madonsela is a Har­vard Ad­vanced Lead­er­ship Fel­low, for­mer pub­lic pro­tec­tor, and founder and chief pa­tron

of the Thuma Foun­da­tion

TALK TO US Did Pres­i­dent Zuma display con­tempt for ethics and the rule of law, and set a bad ex­am­ple by at­tend­ing the Gup­tas’ event?

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