SUNDAY TIMES - ANC outrage over Zuma's Thuli U-turn

ANC outrage over Zuma's Thuli U-turn

President Jacob Zuma has angered senior figures in the ANC after ignoring advice from its national executive committee to take the public protector's Nkandla report on judicial review.

This week it emerged for the first time that a defiant Zuma also ignored advice from party structures and senior leaders as early as two years ago to pay back a portion of the R246-million spent on his Nkandla home.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe yesterday revealed that the NEC had in 2014 - just before the general elections - advised Zuma to take public protector Thuli Madonsela's "Secure in Comfort" report to court for review.

But Zuma instead assigned Police Minister Nathi Nhleko to compile his now discredited report that concluded that the president was not liable for any money spent at his private home.

"It was the NEC that made that decision [to take Madonsela's report for review]," Mantashe told the Sunday Times.

Party spokesman Zizi Kodwa said the NEC had also advised that the interministerial task team report on Nkandla be taken on review.

"[Madonsela and the interministerial task team] made reports which were almost the same in content but with different determinations. We made the decision as the ANC to take both reports on review. That advice was not followed," said Kodwa.

Asked why Zuma had ignored his party's advice, Kodwa said: "I really can't answer that."

Presidency spokesman Bongani Majola declined to comment on the issue and referred the Sunday Times back to Kodwa.

The Sunday Times understands that in 2014, just after Madonsela released her report, Zuma was advised by his legal team not to take the report for judicial review because a court finding affirming the findings would be disastrous for him.

A well-placed source said the advice was that such a finding would be grounds for impeachment.

But impeachment is the course opposition parties now plan to follow after the concession that Zuma made this week during argument in the Constitutional Court.

Zuma's lawyers conceded that the public protector's findings against him in the Nkandla matter were binding and that Nhleko's conflicting report was "meaningless".

An ANC MP said it would be difficult to defend Zuma should the opposition push for his impeachment. "What are we dealing with here? A president who does not apply his mind," the MP said.

"He might see this as a victory today, but there are far-reaching consequences. I don't know how the Speaker will avoid setting up an inquiry into the fitness of the president to hold office."

Anger over Zuma's U-turn was being expressed in hushed tones in the corridors of parliament this week as more details emerged of how the president failed to consult even the ministers directly implicated in the case.

A lawyer representing one of these ministers said they were stunned by Zuma's concession. "That stance is a stance of the president and his lawyers. We were really not involved," said the attorney.

"The moment there was that concession there was really nothing left. What was there to defend after that concession? Everything was conceded there."

ANC MPs who had previously been vocal in defending Zuma, and those who participated in the ad hoc committee on Nkandla, this week expressed their anger at the president's U-turn.

A senior ANC parliamentarian who asked not to be named said the caucus was restless.

"There is a feeling of fear. No one feels safe. Everyone wonders if they are going to be thrown under the bus next. A breach of trust - that is what it is," said the MP.

Another senior ANC MP said Zuma's flip-flop had plunged the ANC into crisis. The legislature had been shown to have failed to carry out its oversight role with regard to the executive.

"For a lot of us it was obvious that he must pay the money for the things that were not security-related, and that was the feeling of most members of parliament," said the senior ANC MP.

"You should ask the president [why he did not want to pay] because he is the one who made a U-turn and parliament did not," he said.

A number of ANC leaders revealed that Zuma had not consulted widely before making the concession in court.

Some said Mantashe was among those who had advised Zuma to pay, and that he was angered by developments.

Mantashe denied this, saying his relationship with Zuma was only political.

"I don't have personal relations with the president. He is the president of the ANC and I am the secretary-general."

- Additional reporting by Jan-Jan Joubert;;;