Quit the farce, Mr Pres­i­dent

Mail & Guardian - - Comment & Analysis -

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.

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