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Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma appears to have adopted an “I know nothing” approach to scandals in which he is implicated.
These include the Schabir Shaik corruption trial, the Guptagate plane landing saga and now Nkandla.
Over the past decade, Zuma has been involved, or his name was dragged into, several scandals involving the abuse of taxpayers’ money, unethical conduct, improper conduct and maladministration.
The ANC leader’s standard response in all the cases has been that he had no idea what happened, or that his name had been abused, by what he characterised as name-droppers, for their own selfish interests.
The culprits were sentenced to jail, subjected to internal government disciplinary hearings, were cleared or had their integrity compromised.
This has led to claims that he avoids taking any responsibility for any scandal or controversy involving his name.
When a chartered flight carrying the wedding guests of Zuma’s friends, the Gupta family, landed at Air Force Base Waterkloof in April last year, it sparked public outrage, resulting in several investigations.
Zuma was implicated in the scandal by SANDF members, who claimed they were informed by an official that the president – referred to as “Number One” – wanted to know “if everything was still on track for the flight”.
Addressing the National Assembly during a debate into the plane-landing saga, Zuma said he had nothing to do with the plane’s landing or those who authorised it, in breach of security and other protocols.
“No, I have no prior knowledge, involvement or communication relating to the landing of a private plane at AFB (Air Force Base) Waterkloof,” he said.
And who took the blame?
The former chief of state protocol in the Department of International Relations and Co-operation was demoted for illegally authorising the controversial landing.
He was suspended in May after being found guilty of having used Zuma’s name to authorise the illegal landing of the Gupta plane.
Koloane pleaded guilty to all charges, including abusing state diplomatic channels and misrepresenting facts.
And Zuma said he knew nothing about the dealings of Shaik, despite his former financial adviser being sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment in 2005 after being found guilty of corruption in connection with R1.2 million paid to him.
This week, Zuma stuck to his standard response after Public Protector Thuli Madonsela found he had improperly benefited from the R215m Nkandla upgrades under the guise of security.
She said he had unduly benefited from non-security measures such as a swimming pool, a cattle kraal and an amphitheatre.
Zuma has maintained he knew nothing about all the security installations at his private home.
He said he was neither involved in nor briefed about the upgrades, implemented by the Department of Public Works on behalf of the government’s security cluster.
Zuma’s spokesman, Mac Maharaj, could not be reached for comment on Thursday. He failed to respond to phone calls and an e-mail.
Political analyst Somadoda Fikeni on Thursday dismissed Zuma’s assertions that he did not know about the security upgrades.
“I do think that whether he knew or not, it’s clear that he would benefit. It’s common cause that whether he was aware or not, his family will end up benefiting. I don’t think that that argument would hold,” Fikeni said.
He added that the ANC appeared to have accepted Madonsela’s report and committed to supporting Chapter 9 institutions.
“Had the ANC gone for a head-to-head butting with the public protector at a political level rather than addressing the merits, that would have created a backlash from the public.”
Fikeni said the ruling party had averted a constitutional crisis.
He said the next, critical step was whether the government and Zuma himself would enforce the report’s recommendations.
“What is important is what next step to take and how people (liable) will be held accountable and whether the president will take responsibility and own up and pay. That would avert the crisis.”