Johannesburg - The ANC seems to be trying to tread carefully on the Nkandla saga – by giving President Jacob Zuma moral support without necessarily getting directly involved or publicly exonerating him.
Its top brass have asked Zuma to give his version of events directly to Parliament as ordered by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, saying they do not want to interfere in “a very serious process”.
Denying that the ANC was trying to distance itself from the Nkandla mess for which its senior leaders were responsible, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said the party “reprimanded everybody for the damage caused”.
Addressing a post-national executive committee (NEC) meeting at Luthuli House in Joburg on Monday, Mantashe insisted the ruling party promoted public accountability, but would not pre-empt processes and “steam ahead of ourselves”.
“What we did not do is to say to the president ‘please report to us’, because if we do so, we would be undermining the process that is ending on Wednesday. The president is expected to report to Parliament on Wednesday,” he said.
Mantashe said the NEC did not want to interfere in parliamentary, governmental and legal processes around the R215 million security upgrades. Instead, it would take a cue from Zuma on the way forward.
“Our view is ‘let’s wait for the president to take a decision on the next course of action’… I think when you are reported about in a report, you have a duty and a responsibility to analyse and deal with the possible consequences.”
This came a day after Zuma broke his silence on the Nkandla report, saying he would not reimburse taxpayers because he did not ask for those non-security upgrades at his KwaZulu-Natal home.
Mantashe appeared irritated at times when journalists bombarded him with more Nkandla questions, largely giving vague answers or refusing to answer them.
Asked whether Zuma’s utterance meant he was immune from prosecution and accountability and whether the ANC condoned it, Mantashe replied: “There is a responsibility that goes into various ministries. Nobody is interested in that. You are interested in whether Zuma is immune or not.
“I don’t think I should answer that question because it reflects deep-seated attitudes.”
He refused to divulge what Zuma told the NEC.
“We can’t give a verbatim report to the media. We are giving you the essence of the report from the NEC. The president will respond in due course.”
Mantashe also dismissed as “academic” questions on whether the ruling party still had confidence in Zuma’s leadership.
However, he made it clear that Zuma’s being the face of the ANC election campaign was “not up for discussion” because he had been re-elected at the ANC’s Mangaung conference.
The NEC’s thinking on Nkandla, which has reportedly divided the party, came against the backdrop of a high court review application by a group of KwaZulu-Natal lawyers.
But Mantashe said the ANC would not join the review application or even recommend what Zuma’s next move should be.
“If we go to a court and say ‘please review this’, that court will not take (us) seriously because we are not cited in the report.”
Mantashe added the ANC would summon its senior leaders who have spoken out negatively about the party in the wake of Nkandla to explain themselves with a view to sanctioning them.
Heavyweights such as Thabo Mbeki, Pallo Jordan, Trevor Manuel and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe have been outspoken about the public protector’s report in recent days.
Mantashe said it was unfair to ask what the ANC made of the report’s finding that Zuma violated the Executive Ethics Code, saying the question assumed that the president would not respond within 14 days as ordered.
He suggested Madonsela applied the code and chapter 2 of the constitution wrongly, saying: “I can tell you with my eyes closed that they are off the mark.”
Mantashe reiterated that Zuma himself had previously shown accountability by firing several ministers on the basis of Madonsela’s reports.
He also claimed that reporters’ obsession with Nkandla, even though the NEC statement contained other issues, was a reflection of the quality of journalism in the country.