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Allowing and helping Thuli Madonsela to do what the constitution mandates her to would be to strengthen our democracy, says Max du Preez.
The genuine democrats in the ANC should make sure that the government resists the temptation to undermine or discredit the office of the public protector. With the auditor-general, the courts and the media, the public protector is one of our strongest guarantees that we as citizens can hold the authorities accountable.
The current holder of the office, Thuli Madonsela, has established herself as one of the foremost champions of our democracy. Her fearless independence is a refreshing change from her predecessor, but has also made her many powerful enemies in government and the ruling party, notorious for resenting anyone from outside the inner circle holding them to account.
It doesn’t matter which way you define or look at it, the stark reality is that corruption in South Africa has now become systemic and is having a demonstrable negative impact on governance and the economy.
Civil society has, through vigorous campaigns, rescued us from a severe downgrading of the freedom of the media by forcing the ANC to rewrite the Protection of State Information Bill and softening its worst draconian proposals.
But that bill did tell us that the government’s basic instinct is to tightly control information about itself and its activities and prevent the sun from shining into its darkest corners. It is that same instinct that moves the government, or at least those in the cabinet closest to President Jacob Zuma, to want to “deal with” the uppity Madonsela. She has become a very uncomfortable pebble in their shoe.
There are many ways to do this. They can starve her office of money and resources, they can make her work very difficult by not co-operating with her investigations, they can start a whispering campaign of gossip and untruths about her, they can apply undue political pressure on her or they can try and turn her own staff against her. We have seen evidence that most of these strategies have already been employed in some way or another.
There is an Afrikaans expression about courting trouble or acting in a way guaranteed to bring about severe counter-action: tickling the lion’s testicles. By insisting that it is her right and duty to investigate the millions of taxpayers’ money spent on Zuma’s private Nkandla villa, Madonsela is certainly doing exactly that.
As they say in Luthuli House: you don’t mess with Msholozi and emerge unscathed. In fact, keeping Zuma out of court (and jail?) and preventing him from being embarrassed further or portrayed as a corrupt politician has become his acolytes’ preoccupation. Most of them could lose their jobs if he goes and he is, after all, going to be the face of the ANC at next year’s general election.
It seems as if the arms deal scandal, in which he has been implicated, has been successfully taken care of, at least if the actions of Judge Willie Seriti and his commission so far indicate which way they are going to go. The spy tapes scandal, which could potentially prove that withdrawing the corruption charges against Zuma was a purely political decision, is being dealt with at the moment through manipulating the judicial process and refusing to execute court orders. The enrichment of his family and clan doesn’t seem to be regarded as much of a scandal by his party and primary constituency.
But most South Africans inside and outside the ANC believe that the R200 million-plus state money spent on Zuma’s luxurious private village is a proper scandal, also because he apparently lied to Parliament about it. The cabinet’s strategy so far has been to institute secretive investigations by its own staff into the spending, by insisting that Nkandla is a national key point and by bluntly refusing to release any significant information about it.
It is absolutely imperative that South Africans get to know exactly how much of whose money was spent on what at Nkandla. The man is our president, after all. And at this point it seems Madonsela is the most likely person to give us that information if she’s allowed to investigate properly.
The news at the weekend that several members of Zuma’s cabinet had put pressure on her on two occasions to drop her investigation into Nkandla was not unexpected. Now that this inappropriate pressure has been confirmed, it is even more important for the truth to come out.
Those in the broader leadership of the ANC alliance should realise that it is simply not worth sacrificing their party and their government’s credibility and undermining the public’s trust in our political institutions just to save Jacob Zuma’s honour and political career.
Allowing and helping Thuli Madonsela to do what the constitution mandates her to would be to strengthen our democracy and the culture of openness and accountability demanded by our constitution. - Cape Times
* Max du Preez is a well-known South African journalist.
** The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Newspapers.