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Sat Jul 30 18:57:22 SAST 2016

Zuma drags ANC 'into a dark hole'

Jan-Jan Joubert, Ernest Mabuza and Olebogeng Molatlhwa | 04 February, 2016 00:46

President Jacob Zuma's honeymoon in office is over and his authority in and out of government is being challenged.

Yesterday ANC members spoke openly of being ''embarrassed'' and ''pained'' by the president after he was forced into a second dramatic climbdown in two months - this time over Nkandla.

Two years after denying liability for the splurging of millions in taxpayers' money on his private KwaZulu-Natal homestead, Zuma announced late on Tuesday that he had written to the Constitutional Court proposing to repay some of the money in line with the recommendations of Public Protector Thuli Madonsela.

The U-turn came just days before the court was due to decide whether he should foot a portion of the bill for supposed security upgrades, including a swimming pool described as a fire-fighting facility, a chicken run and a cattle kraal, which Madonsela found were undue benefits.

It followed years of political fallout during which an ANC-dominated parliamentary committee and the police minister controversially absolved Zuma of liability.

While the ANC officially welcomed Zuma's about-turn, senior party members said his action was too late to repair the dented image of the party and government.

''We have been used and our structures compromised to protect a lie that has been clear to all. The ANC was dragged into a dark hole and now we are told to accept the president's statement,'' said a senior party member who sits on its national executive committee.

''It pains us that we now have to tell our people that, indeed, the president must pay back the money when so much time and resources were used to defend Nkandla corruption.''

Former ANC caucus chairman Vytjie Mentor was scathing.

''The praise-singers are praising President Zuma for doing what he should have done two years ago. They are praising him for daring the nation on so many, many occasions by refusing to pay what he knew all along he had to pay.

''After taking this country to such lows, they are still praising him? Such 'love' for an individual above the love of the country, above the love of the organisation is mind-boggling. So help us God,'' Mentor posted on Facebook.

Zuma's climbdown follows a debacle in December in which he was forced to reverse his appointment of a little-known ANC backbencher to the position of finance minister. The sacking of Nhlanhla Nene wiped tens of billions of rands off the JSE and sent the rand into a tailspin. Pressure from the ANC and big business forced Zuma to hastily reappoint veteran Pravin Gordhan to the finance portfolio.

Last week senior party members spoke openly about the influence of the politically connected Gupta family in the affairs of the state, pointing a finger at Zuma.

"The president's sense of political invincibility seems to have been dented by cumulative events,'' said political analyst Somadoda Fikeni yesterday.

On Zuma's settlement offer in the Nkandla case, the Presidency said: "To achieve an end to the drawn-out dispute ... the president proposes that the determination of the amount he is to pay should be independently and impartially determined." The exact sum would be determined by the Treasury and auditor-general.

The ANC said it hoped the decision would put to rest the Nkandla saga. The ruling party said its support for the proposed solution "does not imply that President Zuma is responsible for wrongdoing in the security upgrades at Nkandla".

The party said it still called for prosecution of those responsible for corruption. The Special Investigating Unit, an independent arm that probes corruption and maladministration in government, found that architect Minenhle Makhanya was liable to repay R155-million related to alleged misuse of public funds in the security upgrades.

The Constitutional Court case, brought by the Economic Freedom Fighters and joined by the DA, is also likely to decide whether Madonsela's findings are binding or mere recommendations, as Zuma has contended.

Madonsela cautiously welcomed Zuma's willingness to engage on the matter but declined to comment further.

The DA said Tuesday's case would go ahead. Leader Mmusi Maimane said: ''We contend that the president designating the auditor-general to come to a determination of how much he is liable for is the latest attempt to establish a parallel process, for a fifth time." He said the DA wanted to ensure Madonsela's instructions were binding unless reviewed by court.

The EFF said it would indicate its course of action today.

Political analyst and constitutional law expert Shadrack Gutto said it would be responsible of Zuma to apologise to Madonsela and the nation for using state organs to undermine her findings.

"Finally the president is looking at the law and saying: 'This is what the law says and I have not been telling the truth'."

Additional reporting by AFP and Bloomberg

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