A South African Air Force aerobatics team flies over the Union Buildings in Pretoria during 20th anniversary celebrations. Picture: AP

Johannesburg -

Almost five years after being inaugurated as the fourth president of a democratic South Africa, President Jacob Zuma returned to the Union Buildings to reflect on 20 years of democracy.

In his speech yesterday, he praised the government, in particular for its achievements in building a democratic society, improving people’s lives, creating jobs and combating crime and corruption.

The government’s achievements, he said, were such that South Africans “must not deny or downplay” them.

He paid tribute to the sacrifices of South Africans who had paid the ultimate price to liberate the country.

In his inaugural speech on May 9, 2009, Zuma had undertaken not to deviate from Nelson Mandela’s nation-building efforts. He’d also hailed his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, for taking “the country forward as a true statesman” and “putting the interests of the country above personal interests”.

“Thank you, Zizi (Mbeki’s clan name) for demonstrating a character that the ANC had always embodied,” Zuma said, and emphasised the importance of upholding the “highest standards of service, probity and integrity”.

Today, though, people are asking whether the ANC under Zuma still exemplifies these values, in the wake of the Nkandla scandal, the Guptas’ landing of a private plane at Waterkloof Air Force Base and allegations that he is delaying the release of spy tapes.

The spy tapes are recordings of conversations between the head of the now-defunct Scorpions, Leonard McCarthy, and former national director of public prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka.

In 2009, the former acting head of the National Prosecuting Authority, Mokotedi Mpshe, used the tapes as the basis for dropping about 700 charges against Zuma.

Public Protector Thuli Ma-donsela’s “Secure in Comfort” report found Zuma and his family “benefited unduly” from the R246 million security upgrades at his private residence and the president had failed to protect state funds.

In 2009, Zuma committed his government in his inauguration speech to strengthening “democratic institutions of the state and enhancing their capacity to serve the people”.

Zuma has since been accused of trying to stall Madonsela’s Nkandla probe. She said Zuma should account to Parliament within 14 days for his comments and actions; he instead chose to wait for the Special Investigating Unit’s report before commenting on her report.

Zuma had also promised to uphold and protect the freedom of expression, including a free press.

“It (the government) is a partnership founded on principles of mutual respect and the unfettered expression of different views. We do not seek conformity. We must defend freedom of the media as we seek to promote within it a greater diversity of voices and perspectives,” he said.

The Mercury