Wily Zuma strikes again
If anyone thought President Jacob Zuma is cornered and out of time‚ his sudden move on Tuesday to announce a judicial commission of inquiry into state capture showed he is still a wily operator who can out manoeuvre his political opponents.
On the eve of the first meeting of the newly elected ANC national executive committee‚ Zuma shot down one of the primary grounds for his recall from office – delaying the state capture inquiry.
Zuma has also stolen the thunder from Cyril Ramaphosa somewhat by announcing the inquiry a few days before the ANC’s 106th anniversary rally where the deputy president was to make the fight against corruption and state capture the centrepiece of his first major policy statement as ANC leader.
Zuma’s surprise decision to appoint the inquiry and to comply with the remedial action of former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela that Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng select the judge to head the inquiry means that those in the NEC who intended to raise the issue of the president’s recall on Wednesday would need to reframe their arguments.
Just before Christmas‚ Zuma lodged the appeal against the North Gauteng High Court judgment affirming Madonsela’s recommendation that Mogoeng select the judge to head the state capture commission of inquiry. This was seen by some in the ANC leadership as insolence and defying a resolution of the ANC’s 54th national conference‚ which stated that that inquiry should be appointed expeditiously.
In a statement to the nation on Tuesday night‚ Zuma said he was “concerned that this matter has occupied the public mind for some time now and deserves urgent attention”.
Despite “reservations about the legality” of Mogoeng selecting the judge‚ Zuma said he requested that the Chief Justice provide him with the name.
Mogoeng selected Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo to head the commission.
Zuma said he is taking further legal advice on the appeal but the state capture matter could not wait any longer. “It is of such serious public concern that any further delay will make the public doubt government’s determination to dismantle all forms of corruption‚ and entrench the public perception that the state has been captured by private interests for nefarious and self-enrichment purposes‚” Zuma said.
“The commission must seek to uncover not just the conduct of some‚ but of all those who may have rendered our state or parts thereof vulnerable to control by forces other than the public for which government is elected.”
These statements are astonishing considering Zuma’s willingness to hand over his decision-making powers to the Guptas and hitherto delaying tactics to prevent any investigation into state capture.
The terms of reference of the inquiry‚ still to be released by the presidency‚ will determine what exactly Zondo will probe.
Those in the NEC who want Zuma removed from office will have to show that it is untenable for Zuma to remain president when the centre of power should be vested with the new ANC leadership. But if Zuma displays a cooperative approach‚ as his statement purports to represent‚ it would be difficult to sustain that argument.
Another factor that counts against him however is his appeal against the North Gauteng High Court judgment deferring his powers to appoint to the National Director of Public Prosecutions to Ramaphosa.
Gauteng Judge President Dunstan Mlambo found that because Zuma was conflicted as his own case had to be decided by the head of the NPA‚ the deputy president should appoint the NDPP. Mlambo invalidated Zuma’s appointment of Shaun Abrahams.
“Minded by the principle of the separation of powers‚ constitutional legality and the rule of law‚ the judgment will be appealed‚” the presidency said in statement in early December.
But several NEC members believe that the ANC needs to demonstrate willingness to restore the effectiveness of the NPA and the criminal justice system and this could only be done through the appointment of a credible NDPP. That process is obviously delayed by Zuma’s appeal.
It is understood that Ramaphosa has been canvassing opinion on setting up a special prosecutions process on state capture‚ independent from the judicial commission‚ to fast track cases where evidence already exists in the public domain. There were plans for him to announce this in his speech on Saturday.
Ramaphosa met with Zuma in Durban on Sunday and it possible that he raised the issues around state capture at the meeting. Zuma’s backpedalling on the judicial inquiry could be him heeding the advice of the new ANC leader or upstaging him ahead of his speech.
Although the issue of Zuma’s recall is not the main focus of Wednesday’s NEC meeting in East London‚ his detractors had planned to raise it for further discussion after the anniversary celebrations this week.
The NEC meeting will be the first time the 86 people elected at the December elective conference sit together. Zuma’s recall is not on the agenda but the issue of “two centres of power” – ANC parlance for the tensions arising from different people leading the party and the state – could be raised.
Ramaphosa speech on Saturday will be the first major political statement of the year and of his term at the ANC’s 106th anniversary rally on Saturday. The statement is ostensibly on behalf of the new NEC‚ so there must be unanimity behind it.
In order to achieve this‚ a fallout over Zuma will have to be avoided.
Some of those who were solidly behind Zuma previously are warming up to the idea of him leaving office early but want a managed process to prevent him being embarrassed.
One of the main outcomes of the NEC meeting will be the composition of the new 20-member national working committee. The meeting will also decide on the new ANC spokesman and heads of the NEC subcommittees.
While Ramaphosa is aiming to present a defining speech on Saturday to set the tone for the ANC and government for the year‚ there is also interest in whether Zuma will show up at the event.
Zuma no longer holds any position in the ANC and is not obliged to attend. His predecessor Thabo Mbeki did not attend the 2008 anniversary celebrations after Zuma’s election in Polokwane.
But as Zuma demonstrated with his state capture announcement‚ he has the uncanny ability to ride the tiger and turn it into his pussycat.