SUNDAY TIMES - At the centre of the ANC laager lies a leader without honour
Sunday Times Opinion & Analysis By Barney Mthombothi, 2016-03-06 00:00:00.0

At the centre of the ANC laager lies a leader without honour

Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, in a titanic battle with her chancellor of the exchequer over her economic policy a year before she was turfed out of office, kept assuring a sceptical public that his position was secure.

"Unassailable, unassailable!" she told a perplexed interviewer.

Weeks later, the larger-than-life Nigel Lawson was out on his ear, setting off a chain of events that were to ultimately lead to Thatcher's own downfall.

President Jacob Zuma has spent the past few days flooding the public with assurances that Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has his full support and confidence. You had the sense he was sending out these dispatches even as he remained stuck in Burundi at the weekend.

When the president has to repeatedly tell us his minister has his full support, it merely confirms that the contrary is true. The man "doth protest too much, methinks", as a Shakespearean character would say.

But we've been saved the trouble of reading between the lines. Gwede Mantashe, Zuma's erstwhile enabler, has been touring the studios muttering darkly, and correctly, about forces out to sabotage South Africa's future.

Civil war has clearly broken out at the very top of the ANC. They may be at daggers drawn, but they are not likely to go their separate ways. Power is just too agreeable. It is the glue that holds them together.

It is now quite clear that Zuma has a tenuous acquaintance with the truth; the public is not likely to take what he says at face value. Nobody believes Zuma when he says, for instance, that the now-discarded and unlamented David van Rooyen was the best finance minister he's ever appointed. Or that he had been prepared all along to pay for the expenditure at Nkandla.

Such utterances are not supported by the evidence. It is utterly incredible that a man in his position can knowingly, and without provocation, play so fast and loose with the facts. That probably points to something innate in his character - and explains the corruption we've witnessed thus far. Integrity, a crucial currency in leadership, simply doesn't exist in his firmament.

And it also says something about our society that such blatant untruths don't seem to appal us any more. Our moral content has been corrupted.

Zuma was jousting with the law at the time that he became a serious contender for higher office. The two were rolled into one, or fed off each other. That image of him going in and out of courtrooms still sticks in the public consciousness.

In office, he's done nothing to redeem himself. He has instead plunged deeper into the morass. He may be president, but in the court of public opinion he remains the accused. In power, he seems determined to gut the state, use it to enrich himself, his family and his cronies, and destroy those who stand in his way.

Thus Thuli Madonsela and Gordhan - two exceptional public servants - are in the firing line; the crooked and the corrupt and the obtuse get rewarded; and the entire ANC is a laager around Zuma.

The Hawks, which emerged from the ashes of the Scorpions, which he destroyed, have become his battering ram. It's frankly outrageous that Lieutenant General Berning Ntlemeza, the head of the Hawks described by a judge as lacking "honour and integrity", is investigating Gordhan.

And if Zuma loses the spy tapes case before the High Court in Pretoria, it will be Nomgcobo Jiba, another with a less-than- unblemished reputation with the judiciary, who will decide whether to reinstate the multilayered corruption case against him.

In parliament this week, ANC MPs, their bellies aching from all the crawling and kowtowing, won the vote on the motion of no confidence in the president but, not for the first time, lost their innocence. They rallied to Zuma with little enthusiasm. It's a job. They have bellies and families to feed. Reputation counts for nothing. It won't pay the bond.

Cyril Ramaphosa, chief framer of our much-admired constitution, is now employed in trashing it. He sat brooding in parliament as the opposition mocked the cowardice and duplicity on the government benches. But as someone once remarked, the opposite of courage is not cowardice, it is conformity. Even a dead fish can go with the flow.

And can somebody please save Mathole Motshekga from himself? The penny has yet to drop, even after Zuma had made a U-turn on Nkandla, leaving his flunkies looking completely foolish.

Nkandla is a serious misdemeanour and a stain on the country's reputation. But it pales into insignificance when compared with the fight Zuma is waging against Gordhan.

"South Africa's wellbeing is being deliberately jeopardised by the person who's supposed to enhance it."

At least Thatcher and Lawson fought over substantive issues - the direction of economic policy. Here we're dealing with naked greed and rapaciousness. Zuma, in defiance of his oath, is clearly acting against the national interest. Those abetting and defending him are complicit in this treachery.