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Sunday Times STLive By Mondli Makhanya, 2011-07-24

How do you 'do the right thing' when you don't know what it is?

Mondli Makhanya
Image: Sunday Times

The optimists in our midst have been calling on President Jacob Zuma to take stern action against police commissioner Bheki Cele and Minister of Public Works Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde.

There is a full expectation that, following the damning report by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela into the leasing of police buildings, Cele and Mahlangu-Nkabinde should be severely sanctioned. Rightly so.

In her recent report in which she labelled the process of leasing the Durban police building "unlawful", "improper conduct" and "maladministration", Madonsela was firm in recommending that Zuma act against Mahlangu-Nkabinde and that police minister Nathi Mthethwa act against Cele. She has slated this deal and the one for the national police headquarters in Pretoria.

"The president should consider taking action against the minister of public works for her actions referred to in this report and the report on the procurement of the lease of the Middestad (Pretoria) building... I'm not prescribing to the president what to do, but I expect him to do the right thing," Madonsela said.

That was Madonsela the optimist talking. But she was not alone. Across society there was a cacophony of optimistic voices calling on the president to "do the right thing". Some alluded to the resignation of the London police chief over his tangential involvement in the News of the World phone-hacking scandal. Why can't our guys be as honourable, was the refrain.

What this optimistic "do the right thing" expectation failed to take into account is that we were expecting this from a president whose notion of right and wrong is very blurred. Expecting Zuma to act against wrongdoing is like expecting a shark to suppress his appetite when a juicy surfer comes into his domain. He won't. He can't.

This is a man, if we care to remember, who was facing a myriad corruption, fraud and racketeering charges before coming to power.

But on April 6 2009, a day that Bantu Holomisa described as a "a shameful day in our country's history", then acting prosecutions boss Mokotedi Mpshe buckled to political pressure and saved Zuma's skin.

Thus was the country robbed of an opportunity of knowing whether, or just how deeply, their future president was embedded in the pockets of shady businessmen. Had the matter gone to court, South Africa would have been able to see whether, or how, Zuma had shamelessly availed himself to do large and menial favours for those who pumped money into his bank account, paid his children's school fees, bought him suits and took care of his car wash bill. The populace would have seen a picture of a man who allowed himself to become a servant of those willing to pay. They would have realised that he has a chronic inability to distinguish between right and wrong.

The Schabir Shaik judgment of 2005 lays bare in the most sickening way Zuma's dependency on the fraudster. The charge sheet in his own aborted case was even more damning. It was truly cringeworthy stuff.

Yes, I know that we are all innocent until proven guilty. It is also accepted that, like Shrien Dewani, Zuma was well within his rights to fight tooth and nail to make sure the case never came before court. This lowly newspaperman also understands that his party was prepared to overlook his thousand warts and give him the big job.

As Julius Malema famously said two months before Mpshe's dropping of the charges: "If Zuma is corrupt, then we want him with all his corruption. We want him with all his weaknesses. If he is uneducated, then we want him as our uneducated president."

So why are we surprised, then, when we find that we have a president who cannot act against wrongdoing? Why are we surprised when our president offers his soul to the new sugar-daddy family that caters for the needs of his brood? Why are we shocked when he is unable to take a stand on anything?

We all knew when we elevated Zuma to the highest office that he was a weak and compromised individual.

Returning to the police lease saga, there is a tiny part of me that feels a wee bit of sympathy for the minister and the police chief. They probably both know they did wrong and are both fully aware that Madonsela's ruling is correct. They know they HAD to do the deal for reasons that neither of them, for obvious reasons, will ever go public on. And because they will never go public they will not be dealt with harshly. There will be a slap on the wrist. The individual who brought property tycoon Roux Shabangu into the fold will thank them for a job well done and "redeploy" them. He will then continue with the ways he is used to.

Elsewhere in the state - at national, provincial and municipal level - a myriad more corrupt dealings will go unpunished. And why should we expect them to be punished when the head of state is the one with the history and character outlined above?

So to the optimists who believe we can reverse the tide of corruption engulfing our land I say: we may have to wait until there is a new occupant in the building on the hill in Tshwane.