The Big Read: Zuma acts the chief, scorns our rule of law
The toxic Gupta family and its capture of the Office of the President may well be crashing to an end as reports surface that they are rushing off to Dubai. Don't be fooled into thinking that our problems are over, though.Even before the Guptas jumped from the Thabo Mbeki tram (the former president's right hand man, Essop Pahad, was once a close associate of the Guptas) to the Jacob Zuma train, the man from Nkandla always held views that not only made him susceptible to grand corruption but were dangerous to the notion of a vibrant, non-sexist, non-racial constitutional democracy.Here is our problem: The president of the African continent's most sophisticated and modern economy believes South Africa's democracy should be run in a manner that is akin to a reactionary traditional chief's ways. The big man rules a cowed village by diktat, not by way of our constitution and the rule of law.Zuma, the man at the helm of our country, wants to run the state like a man unschooled in the core principles of our current constitution. He doesn't believe in our courts, in our constitution, but in a nebulous form of what he refers to as the "African way".Zuma said as much when he addressed the National House of Traditional Leaders last week. He told the house that, instead of reverting to the courts, African problems should be solved "in the African way". Is our constitution, whose principles were driven by the ANC, not African? Is this African constitution not binding on all of us?"I would be very happy that we resolve the African problems in the African way. Because if we solve them only legally, they become complicated. Law looks at one side only and doesn't look at any other thing. It deals with cold facts and I was complaining about that but they are dealing with warm bodies - that's a contradiction," EWN quoted him as saying.You may well ask what African problems are. Is building yourself a R246-million monstrosity in Nkandla an African problem that needs an "African way"? Is sleeping with your exile friend's daughter an African problem? Is handing your sole prerogative to appoint ministers in your cabinet to your benefactors an African problem that is being solved in the "African way"? Is taking bribes from Schabir Shaik an African problem? Is releasing your briber, Schabir Shaik, early from jail an "African solution"?Zuma's views of leadership are also dodgy in the extreme for the leader of a modern democracy.Speaking in isiZulu to more than 10000 people gathered at a drought-relief imbizo at the Melmoth sports grounds in KwaZulu-Natal last Sunday, Zuma intimated that he was anointed or appointed, rather than elected, to his leadership position."As your shepherd, let me lead you," he said. He continued: "While I still have this responsibility to lead the nation, it does not matter whether you are a Zuma [supporter] or not, at this moment I have been given a task to lead you, let me lead you."Essentially: I am the king so stop banging on about Nkandla and my other scandals. The king is not to be challenged.This helps us understand why Zuma has steadfastly denigrated the institutions of our democracy. He just doesn't believe in them. To him, the Constitutional Court is a Western construct, not the key pillar of the democratic state he runs. That is why he has not apologised for violating the constitution, but for the "confusion" that the Nkandla matter has caused. He does not care a fig that he has been found by this court to have failed to uphold, defend and respect the constitution. To him the Constitutional Court is not legitimate.This brings us to the key realisation that a titanic battle is playing out inside the ANC. Over and above the leadership fights that are happening inside the party, we now have to face up to the truth that the battle that is playing out is between reactionary leaders like Zuma who want to use tradition for their own selfish ends and constitutional, African modernists inside the ANC.On the one hand, Zuma flirts with a world that sees him being something like a traditional chief who is not accountable to anyone.On the other are constitutionalists like Gwede Mantashe and Cyril Ramaphosa who want accountability to the constitution.This is what Thabo Mbeki very likely knew way back in the 2000s. This is what we are learning now as Zuma tries to break down every vestige of constitutional democracy.So the Guptas may be gone, but the problem we failed to confront in 2007 is still with us. We have a man in the Union Buildings who neither understands nor respects the constitution. It is doubtful that he has even read it.