Caught between a threatening Zuma and the law


Howard Feldman | Head of Marketing & People | Synthesis Technologies | mail me |

I am perplexed as to why it should matter how the meeting between the ANC’s top 6 and former president Jacob Zuma went. They met him, apparently in an attempt to persuade him to comply with a court ruling and appear before the Zondo Commission of Enquiry. And they updated the country as if we should care.

We should not.

Whereas it might be very nice for them that the discussion was constructive and positive and that a good time was had by all, the truth is that it is not relevant in any material way. The situation could hardly be any simpler and – without meaning to be dismissive  – is practically the ‘Math’s Lit’ of litigation. Zuma was called to the State Capture Enquiry and he refused to go. Following this, he was ordered by the highest court in the country, the Constitutional Court, to comply. He didn’t. He now finds himself to be in contempt of court.

Normal citizens would be arrested. Jacob Zuma apparently needs to be convinced that the law applies to him.

If there is anything confusing or murky in this whole rather basic story, it is the ANC’s uncomfortable relationship with matters of legality when it comes to one of their own members. ‘Give him time and space’, they asked of the country, as though that it is a legal privilege granted to all those who flout the law. The implication of the request is that – should Zuma have the time to take hard look at himself – he will, of course, come to his senses and do something that he actually has no choice but to do. A little introspection, they seem to suggest, will go a long way and following that little bit of ‘me’ time, they seem confident that the former president will no doubt regret the error of his ways.

And will change course.

The whole enactment is a triumph of optimism over experience. To date, Jacob Zuma has been characteristically unrelenting and immovable. Multitudes of well intentioned, including the Economic Freedom Fighter’s Julius Malema, have popped over to Nkandla and tried to convince him to do the right thing: so many, in fact, that I would hardly be surprised if they haven’t installed a revolving door at Nkandla (at taxpayer’s expense, of course). An invitation to the home of the former president is much like that infamous Gupta wedding at Sun City, back in the day. At the time, it might have been an aspiration to find yourself on the list. Until soon after when it no longer was.

While we wait for the former president to take all the time and space that he needs, the list of visitors continues to grow, as is the fascination around what was served to whom.

Whereas Malema apparently popped in for tea and cake, in what is a magnificent shout out to Marie Antoinette, it is apparently not all about carbs. According to reports, most visitors were served meat, aside from Bheki Cele, South Africa’s Minister of Police, who was only offered fruit.

With all the focus on hospitality and edibles, the coldest reception was apparently reserved for ANC leadership, which he is said to have been angry with. His behaviour, only slightly less adolescent than my petulant 16-year old, meant that he thought it acceptable to snub a planned person-to-person meeting at Luthuli House. Word on the street is that he made the ANC leaders wait for most of Monday, before only seeing them online for a short while, giving a whole new meaning to a ‘Zoom/Zuma’ meeting.

Following the meeting, the party released one sentence on Monday evening, but stressed that they had very positive and constructive discussions. Fortunately for the ANC, most the country was engaged with Oprah, Harry and Meghan and could hardly be bothered to hear more about the ANC space- time continuum. According to news reports, Zuma also missed his deadline to oppose the state capture commission of inquiry’s contempt of court application before the Constitutional Court.

The ANC is quite clearly in a tight spot. Caught between a powerful, threatening former president and the law, there is no move for them that is without consequence. But consequence and simplicity are not the same. The only acceptable action is for them to acknowledge that they have tried their best and that they now need to step aside. In doing so, they will send a message to the country that the party is not above the law and that members of the ANC are not free to act without consequence. If they neglect to do that, they will instead communicate that which we have long suspected.



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