Allister Sparks says the EFF’s protest in Parliament could the catalyst for a transformation of our national politics.
As an honorary pastor, Jacob Zuma should long ago have taken heed of that biblical injunction in Galatians VI that, “As ye sow, so shall ye reap.”
The president looked taken aback by that display of street theatre by Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters in the National Assembly last week. Indeed it was dismaying for anyone who cares about the dignity and integrity of our democratic institutions to see riot police being called in to the sanctity of Parliament to evict an entire party.
But my goodness it was an effective demonstration.
Somehow the sheer crudity of that chant, “Pay back the money”, gave vent to a pent-up feeling of national exasperation and anger at Zuma’s continuous prevarication, obfuscation and equivocation in the face of the multiple allegations of corruption that are closing in on him more tightly than ever.
I believe the unprecedented chaos that erupted in the House, and the public reaction to it in Malema’s favour, even by people who dislike the young man’s crude methods, was a catalytic event that is going to have a transformative impact on our national politics.
It could well mark the beginning to the end of Zuma’s presidency.
But what Zuma himself should note is that he has brought this upon himself. It was Zuma who created Malema and condoned his methods.
It was he who unleashed Malema and his ANC Youth League stormtroopers in his fight to unseat President Thabo Mbeki at Polokwane in 2007.
It was he who allowed Malema to launch violent attacks on opposition party rallies.
Those were the seeds Zuma sowed. Now he must reap the crop that has sprouted in his face.
Thursday’s eruption occurred during presidential question time as Zuma ducked and dived when Malema demanded that he say when he would pay back the money owing to the state for the over-expenditure on Nkandla, as ordered by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela.
Zuma tried to fob off Malema by saying he had already responded to Madonsela’s report, referring to the wishy-washy report he submitted to Parliament last week on both that report and another by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), which he had ordered to check out Madonsela’s findings.
The SIU pretty well confirmed all those findings, but laid the blame on the architect, Minenhle Makhanya, saying he rather than Zuma should pay the excess of R155 million.
Zuma’s typically cunning response has been to order the hapless Police Minister, Nkosinathi Nhleko, to decide who must do the paying.
Since Nhleko has just been appointed by Zuma and serves at his pleasure, ordinary citizens may feel the minister’s decision would not be unbiased.
More important still is that Madonsela has now written a blazing letter to Zuma accusing him of acting illegally and defiling the constitution.
She points out that the office of the public protector is a Section 9 institution embedded in the constitution and that no-one has the legal right, not the SIU nor any minister nor the president himself, to overturn her findings. Only an order of court can do that.
Whether Malema was aware of that, I don’t know. But he is an impulsive fellow and he wasn’t having any more of this procedural wriggling. So he and his fellow MPs let rip with their protest demonstration, and as the Speaker, Baleka Mbete, tried repeatedly but ineffectively to protect the president, the session disintegrated into chaos.
But the effect is going to be lasting.
Nor is this Zuma’s only problem with the Nkandla issue, for in its efforts to divert responsibility from Zuma the SIU did a foolish thing. It issued summons on architect Makhanya to pay up. Now R155m isn’t peanuts and it seems Makhanya is unwilling to play sucker. His lawyer says they will fight the matter in court. Which could be embarrassing for Zuma.
To make his case Makhanya would have to give evidence that when he added all those expensive embellishments such as the swimming pool, the cattle kraal, a visitors’ centre and expensive landscaping, he was not working off his own bat, but under the instruction, or at least with the approval, of “The Principal” of the project – the president, whose home it is.
That raises the question of whether Zuma would be prepared to give evidence under oath denying that, and face cross-examination? Which is something he has spent six years desperately trying to avoid in the arms deal case.
Speaking of which, that grey-bearded issue is also raising its head once more. Twelve days ago the redoubtable Kemp J Kemp, who commanded Zuma’s great “Stalingrad retreat” in the arms deal case from one appeal to another, was chopped to bits by judges of the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), to the point where he had to admit he had “no case” in his appeal to prevent the so-called “spy tapes” being handed over to the DA.
The court duly ordered that the tapes be handed over to the DA after first being examined by a retired judge or senior counsel to decide which items, if any, should be excised because they contain vital matters of national security. Retired SCA judge Noel Hurt has now been given the job, with the DA’s approval.
This could conceivably lead to a reassessment of whether the former acting National Director of Public Prosecutions, Mokotedi Mpshe, was justified in withdrawing the charges of corruption against Zuma six years ago. If not the charges could be reinstated.
Mpshe declared at the time that the tapes revealed a conversation between Bulelani Ngcuka, then National Director of Public Prosecutions, and Scorpions chief Leonard McCarthy that rendered the case against Zuma “fatally flawed”.
The mystery of how and by whom the tapes came to be recorded, how such confidential material came to be handed to Zuma’s private attorney, Michael Hulley, and how Hulley in turn came to hand them to Mpshe, may also be revealed.
All of which could amount to a cleaning of the Augean stables. Which raises the question of how much longer the ANC can live with all this muck? Zuma has become a huge burden on the party. It has already cost it a number of seats in Parliament and the provincial legislatures. Now, with Zuma’s ratings plunging even faster and the metalworkers’ union Numsa planning to form a labour party, it is set to suffer a veritable haemorrhage in the local government elections in 20 months’ time.
The hundreds of ANC grassroots mayors and councillors who stand to lose their jobs – which means falling out of the middle class for many – can’t be relishing the prospect. I smell a grassroots revolt in the offing and venture to predict that Zuma will be gone before those elections.
Who might replace him? As deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa is in pole position. But don’t rule out the possibility of his predecessor, Kgalema Motlanthe, being recalled to serve once again as he did after the ANC so thoughtlessly dumped Thabo Mbeki in favour of Zuma.
Either one could do an effective rescue job. Which is what the country, even more than the party, desperately needs.
* Sparks is a veteran journalist and political commentator.
** The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Newspapers.