Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma has been overtaken by a perfect political storm as opposition parties in Parliament demand he appears before a committee looking into the Nkandla scandal.
His legal team also agreed yesterday to surrender the so-called spy tapes and documents relating to the decision to drop corruption charges against him.
#paybackthemoney was still reverberating on Twitter a day after the Economic Freedom Fighters hurled the slogan in Zuma’s face in Parliament and it was the subject of radio talk shows and front pages of newspapers across the country.
Leaders of opposition parties, though some disagreed with the EFF’s tactics, were united in the call for Zuma to appear in person before an ad hoc committee on Nkandla and answer all their remaining questions.
They were open to working together to keep up the pressure on Zuma, including the possibility of joining forces in a #paybackthemoney march.
The ANC, meanwhile, went on the offensive, saying the EFF was a threat to democracy and calling on Parliament to “wake up to this reality and defend its integrity”.
This comes after the chaotic scenes of Thursday afternoon, when EFF members defied an instruction from Speaker Baleka Mbete to leave the National Assembly and riot police were summoned to remove them. EFF MPs had been angry with the president’s reply to their leader Julius Malema’s question on when he would respond to the public protector’s report on Nkandla.
Zuma said he had responded, in his report to Mbete submitted last week, after which EFF members began banging their hard hats and demanding that he “Pay back the money”. Violence was avoided only when Mbete, following consultations with the parties, called off the afternoon’s sitting and promised Zuma would return at a later date to finish his replies.
OPPOSITION PARTIES UNHAPPY
But opposition parties unhappy with the limiting format of oral replies in the National Assembly, under which Zuma must respond to only four supplementary questions and cannot be forced to give a direct answer, have said he must subject himself to cross-examination in the committee in an exhaustive hearing.
“Once we get an assurance that President Zuma will appear before the committee and we will question him, then we are fine, we can let go of him in the Assembly and continue the battle in the committee,” Malema said on Thursday evening.
His call found support among other opposition leaders yesterday. DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane said his party would “absolutely” back it.
“It’s not just the president. The president can come and obfuscate, but it must be the public protector; Vas Soni, the head of the SIU; people must come and defend their reports,” Maimane said.
Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota blamed the governing ANC for the “anarchy” it accused the EFF of sowing.
He accused Zuma of undermining the constitution by ignoring Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s prescribed remedial action for him to repay a percentage of the costs for non-security items built by the state during the R246 million security upgrade at Nkandla.
Zuma has referred the question of whether or not he should pay to Police Minister Nathi Nhleko.
“The president and the ruling party must take responsibility for this anarchy. The anarchist is not citizens who have a constitution and obey the constitution and then the ruling party does not respect the constitution,” Lekota said.
ZUMA MAY HAVE TO ANSWER CHARGES AS SITTING SA PRESIDENT
“The president must say to the nation, ‘I uphold the constitution, I will comply with what the public protector has said must be done, I will pay’.”
UDM leader Bantu Holomisa, who had been about to ask Zuma a supplementary question when proceedings were interrupted, said it would have been about whether the president would agree to facilitate the work of the committee by presenting his response in person.
“What’s the point of talking to a report when the owner of the property is Zuma, who is being accused of using money, and he’s the person who submitted the report… So we have a right to summon him, he’s in a corner,” Holomisa said.
The idea of a #paybackthemoney march would “work”, Holomisa said.
“The UDM will be there with our flags.”
Maimane said co-operating on a march was something the party could entertain, but Parliament should ideally be the site of accountability.
“The ultimate sanction if Zuma avoids the responsibility he has to take, then we must say, does Parliament feel that he must remain in office,” Maimane said, raising the option of a vote of no confidence.
Malema said yesterday opposition parties “should be able to create an environment where we meet and talk about possible programmes that can be taken up to ensure the Nkandla issue does not die a natural death, and indeed the money gets paid”, but he would prefer not to do it through the media.
“From next week we’ll be taking a programme of meetings to try and find a consolidated position on what needs to happen,” Malema said.
Presidency spokesman Mac Maharaj declined to comment on the possibility of Zuma appearing before the ad hoc committee.
“That’s a matter for Parliament to decide. There’s an ad hoc committee. It will take decisions and we will not be dealing with them on an individual basis,” Maharaj said.
The ANC said Zuma had given a comprehensive response to the public protector, as well as reports of the Special Investigating Unit and interministerial task team.
“There is no substance to the claim that the president is undermining the public protector. The president has comprehensively responded to all the reports, including that of the public protector, taking into consideration their recommendations as well regarding what ought to be done,” said the party’s caucus spokesman, Moloto Mothapo.
ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa said the EFF was “committed to hijack our democracy, parliament and legislatures”.
“The EFF is not in Parliament to resolve or to engage robustly to solve any problem, but there to cause destruction and anarchy,” he said.
Mothapo said he did not want to pre-empt the work of the ad hoc committee by commenting on whether Zuma should appear before it.
But he said the EFF “propaganda” that it had been provoked by Zuma’s response was discredited by information it had planned to disrupt the session all along.
“As early as the morning the message in the corridors of Parliament was that there was going to be such disruption. So, whatever the president would have said, the disruption would have taken place,” Mothapo said.
BATTLE OVER SPY TAPES OVER
Meanwhile, Zuma’s lawyers came to an agreement with the DA legal team in the “spy tapes” matter, bringing to a close a protracted court battle over the tapes.
DA chairman of the federal executive James Selfe said the parties had agreed on a legal figure who would peruse the internal documentation relied on by the National Prosecuting Authority for its decision to drop corruption charges against Zuma and decide which of these should be withheld.
Only the submissions Zuma’s team made in confidence to the NPA in an attempt to show why the charges should be dropped will remain secret.
Zuma’s team had already conceded in the Supreme Court of Appeal last week it had no case for withholding the tapes themselves – purported intercepted recordings of conversations between role players in the prosecution of Zuma – which allegedly demonstrate the corruption case against him was politically motivated.
Charges were controversially dropped in 2009, paving the way for Zuma to be elected president, but the release of the material to the DA will allow it to proceed with its application for a judge to review this decision and set it aside.
Should that happen Zuma will face the awkward scenario of finally answering the charges while he is the sitting president of the country.