Quit the farce, Mr President
At the end of 2016, we said that President Jacob Zuma was engaging in governance by farce. This year, he has started conducting his legal wars by farce. On Tuesday Zuma told the high court in Pretoria, through his legal team, that it should send an investigation into state capture back to the public protector. On Wednesday his team told the same court he had changed his mind, and it is no longer asking for that order. On Thursday his office issued a press statement to say he had made that U-turn in court because he had given Parliament an unequivocal undertaking to establish a commission of inquiry — and the order he had been asking for would have prevented that.
Just why Zuma and his support team (which now costs more than R500million a year) did not realise that much earlier in this long legal process he has not told us. Nor has he explained why his legal team refused to make a formal offer in court that he would set up such a commission.
Zuma did much the same thing in September, on the corruption charges he has fought off for years, waiting until the day of argument in the Supreme Court of Appeal to concede that, gosh, come to think of it, the decision to drop those charges had been irrational after all.
Gnaw away at it long enough and you can come up with theories on why Zuma does these things. Perhaps he is playing for time. Perhaps he is signalling utter disdain for the legal system as a show of strength for the benefit of his supporters. Perhaps his strategy is simply to cause confusion.
But none of these theories quite stand up. There are far better ways to achieve all of those objectives without the same kind of risk and ridicule.
In the end, there are just two really plausible explanations, which we can only properly express by resorting to profanity: either Zuma doesn’t know what the hell he is doing, or he just doesn’t give a damn.
It’s just impossible to assign rational thought to Zuma’s presidency right now. His various Cabinet reshuffles make no sense except to fuel conjecture that he is up to no good — the kind of no good that has translated into a period of the slowest economic growth since 1994.
And it’s not likely to improve anytime soon.
The South African economy is expected to continue struggling over the foreseeable future, and to grow by a modest 0.7% this year and 1.1% next year.
And still the president dithers. He is also sitting on the report of the fees commission he instituted to investigate the crisis in higher education.
This delay has prompted even University of Cape Town vice-chancellor Max Price to release a statement appealing to Zuma to release the report so that universities, students and their families can prepare their finances for the 2018 academic year.
What possible reason could the president have to delay the release of the report? To sow more chaos, more confusion? You’d think he’d done enough of that already.