Running Zuma’s ‘war room’

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Copy of ST_sa nkandla0 INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS The Democratic Alliance the press briefing was a poor attempt to shield Jacob Zuma from being held accountable for the waste of public money. File photo: Doctor Ngcobo

ONE of my colleagues said the other day being a newspaper editor is like being the prime minister of Greece, which is in the grip of protests and European Union-imposed austerity.

Like Antonis Samaras, prime minister of Greece, editors battle limited resources, but unlike him, are treated to the thrill of the unpredictability of their news days. And the days have grown more unpredictable as the ANC’s Mangaung conference draws near. But there are great news days too.

There is one job in our country that I think is more demanding, more stressful and also fascinating in a different sort of way than being an editor, or Bafana Bafana coach, or even the Springbok coach.

It’s being President Jacob Zuma’s spokesperson. The incumbent, Mac Maharaj, must have the most intriguing, if not toughest, of tasks.

Take Zuma’s performance at the National Assembly in Parliament last Thursday.

It was Parliament as it was supposed to be. Exhilarating. Tough-talking, finger-wagging, no-holds-barred battle for survival, it appeared. It was a once-in-a-while opportunity to see Zuma crack, but not shed a tear.

Zuma, as most know, hardly shows emotions, as he did. He hardly chokes or fights back tears as he struggles to answer questions. This was the new Zuma. Emotional and hurt. Zuma whose heart was bleeding. Bleeding because Helen Zille trudged what used to be the rutted paths to Nkandla, from Cape Town, to see how R240 million security upgrades have been used at Zuma’s home.

The Zuma we know would rather giggle and lift up his spectacles, before answering a difficult question. Never teary.

And so we now ask ourselves if, by being emotional, Zuma became erratic too and said things he should not have said. Or made errors he now possibly regrets.

There is now a lot of interest about this line he used: “I took the decision to extend my home... and I built more rondavels. I engaged the bank and I am still paying the bond.”

Belinda Benson, of the Ingonyama Trust which owns the piece of land on which Zuma’s house is built, has already publicly declared: “Over that particular portion, as it stands right now, there is no bond. Whether it hasn’t been registered yet or if it’s still in the process (of being registered) or whether the president has elected to bond a different property, we don’t know.”

In short, the challenge is that Zuma might have been economical with the truth when he said, “I am still paying the bond”.

Maharaj has hardly moved his mouth to explain. Either there is a bond or there isn’t. Was Zuma that rattled by young, articulate DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko that he made this story up to save face, or is there a bond? If there is, what impedes articulate Maharaj from refuting this claim and providing proof later, if needs be?

I can’t say I know what it’s like to be in his shoes, but Maharaj is surely having it tough. There’s the bond stories that can’t, immediately at least, be explained. There is the case of spy tapes coming back to haunt the president. There are roads built leading to the president’s home, creating an impression he is prioritising his village. There is also the R2 billion Zumaville project that has not quite disappeared from the radar.

Running Zuma’s communications must be like operating a special type of war room, fending off one scandal after another.

Even Samaras has it easier than this. Surely.


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