President Jacob Zuma anonounces members of his new cabinet at the GCIS building in Pretoria, 25 May 2014. Picture: Phill Magakoe

Bryan Rostron says the woes of one ruinously flawed man are dragging his party into the sludge.  

LAST week was dire for Jacob Zuma. So our president took himself off to Russia for a meeting with Vladimir Putin and “a rest”. Then, over the weekend there was a confusing Lesotho coup d’etat.

Judging by the rhetoric from ANC leaders trying to explain away scandals accumulating around the absent Zuma, you might have thought this coup had occurred in South Africa because of the paranoid double-talk from politicians. Armed police had stormed Parliament and security personnel tried to block any reporting of what was happening – attempts by pesky new MPs to question Zuma about his reckless spending of state money. The Zuma excuse bank appears to be bankrupt.

During our general election in May, the campaign slogan of the ANC was: “We have a good story to tell.” Well, some stories maybe. But as they say about jokes: “It’s the way you tell ’em.”

Attempts to defend the “Zuma story” last week provided a masterclass in how to turn a damage limitation exercise into far deeper damage. Every time senior party officials opened their mouths about this saga, problems escalated, ricocheting from absurdity to farce and finally threatening a potential constitutional crisis. All this was done not to carry out government policy or transform our massive inequalities. No, once again, the woes of one ruinously flawed man are being allowed to drag those close to him, and his party, down into the sludge.

At times it seems as if ANC bigwigs must spend more time defending the unrepentant habits of our hapless president than in actually running the country. As the personal and political scandals accumulate, Zuma’s acolytes are compelled to bluster ever more vociferously, even hinting that his legal crises are part of some gigantic (if nebulous) counter-revolutionary conspiracy. As confirmation of his serial misconduct grows, the excuses become ever more hysterical.

Last week, several long-running predicaments came to a head for Zuma. As a result he may yet face the 700 counts of corruption that he has spent years fighting. Meanwhile, demands that he pay back some of the millions of state money lavished on his rural homestead reached a climax, both judicial and populist. It seems that for all the president’s evasions, expensive legal stratagems and baying defenders, nothing will stop these scandals from intensifying.

So last week, senior ANC leaders went into overdrive, spraying wretched innuendo and laughable smears in all directions. It was crudely hinted that the dignified public protector, who has taken Zuma to task for overspending on his homestead, was in cahoots with the undignified demagogues of the EFF. This shamefully malicious slander obscures the awkward fact that the EFF leader, Julius Malema, was Zuma’s protégé and battering ram until he became uncontrollable – and instead it is the public protector who actually issued the damning report on the activities of this mini-Zuma, Malema.

After EFF MPs humiliatingly chanted “pay back the money” at Zuma in Parliament, the defence minister warned that security services might take control of ensuring public order in Parliament. The ANC secretary-general topped that by threatening that Parliament could be moved from Cape Town to Pretoria, where, he claimed, the governing party can rely more on loyalty from the police. Hot air for now maybe. Nevertheless, it reveals an authoritarian mindset.

And that coup in Lesotho? One of the reasons Prime Minister Tom Thabane had to flee to South Africa was public anger that he had gifted diplomatic passports to the notorious Gupta family, whose tentacles reach into many of our Zuma scandals. So why did the Lesotho premier get involved with this tacky family? You’ve probably guessed. He was, he said, introduced to them by Mr Zuma.

It’s all horribly reminiscent of an old Neapolitan saying: “The king gave us the law, then he also taught us how to break it.” In the unreformed South Africa today, not a good story at all.

Cape Times

* Rostron is a freelance journalist and author

* The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Newspapers.