President Jacob Zuma and his brother Michael photographed in conversation at his Nkandla residence. The ANC has been deeply scarred by the scandal around Nkandla, and the writer opines that the ruling party has deployed a range of tactics to minimise the damage. Photo: Sandile Ndlovu
President Jacob Zuma and his brother Michael photographed in conversation at his Nkandla residence. The ANC has been deeply scarred by the scandal around Nkandla, and the writer opines that the ruling party has deployed a range of tactics to minimise the damage. Photo: Sandile Ndlovu

Nkandla – the ANC’s house of cards

By Susan Booysen Time of article published Apr 6, 2014

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A faction of the ANC has been waging a precarious game of institutional warfare aimed at keeping Zuma and themselves in power, writes Susan Booysen.


It is a precarious game of institutional warfare that the Zuma-ANC plays around Nkandla. The game undercuts institutions that are prized cogs in the wheel of South African democracy. All is fair in this game to preserve the power of the president.

It matters little to the main perpetrators that their tricks of institutional manipulation of Parliament and the office of the public protector are transparent.

In their zealot style they drill South Africans into believing feeble fabrications on why the president cannot be held to account.

These are experienced warriors.

They cut their teeth in the days of 2005-09 when Zuma was brought in to transcend all legal odds and Mbeki-ites had to be prised from the trenches of state institutions.

Zuma’s succession was at stake.

Five years on the battle is about keeping their president and themselves in power.

And the Zumaists are literally executing a scorched earth strategy on public institutions to help preserve their ringside seats to the trough.

They build on nine years of systematically working out opponents in party and state – getting loyalists into the NEC, perfecting

Zumaist party lists, virtually custom designing delegate lists, deploying the right people across government spheres, and pardoning felonious loyalists who can bring in their constituencies.

By now they are old hands at subjugating state to party … except now they are doing it in the name of (wait for it) “respecting Parliament” and “valuing the public protector’s strengthening of South African democracy”!

It is a war of attrition on the institutions of oversight and accountability – that is, on the ones remaining standing after others’ subjugation to the ANC’s Zuma flank. They do not care how long it will take for the institutions to recover beyond Zuma – if ever they

do. In this season of preserving the president they believe it is better to deny, defer and delude (even in the face of evidence that voters know better) than in owning up to it in humility.

To be sure, research has already shown how ordinary citizens, across the board and inclusive of dedicated ANC supporters, disregard and ridicule institutions like Parliament, the cabinet, the presidency and even the courts, mostly without disavowing the ANC. At stake for the ANC at this stage of the 2014 election is how wavering ANC and other swing voters judge the ANC government’s reactions to the Nkandla debacle.

Bear in mind that in a recent Ipsos survey 68 percent of ANC supporters agreed the Nkandla expenditures were excessive and the money misused.

My own research shows the public protector enjoys immense support and gains sky-high popular respect.

The president, in contrast, is regarded as a “shower head” and “circus leader”.

Madonsela is seen as the one who cares about ordinary people; not the president, who rose into power wearing this rosette.

The ANC in Parliament has a dismal standing on holding the executive to account. It has largely come to comprise representatives of the president rather than of the people.

The principle of holding the executive to account had its last flash in the pan in the interregnum between Mbeki and Zuma.

It is these MPs who fail to see that the popular credibility of this public protector is an essential spoke in the wheel of their own institution’s perceived integrity.

Long the proponents of the supremacy of the party over the state, the ANC’s chief whip now argued that it respects Parliament

too much to let it pronounce on the president’s Nkandla escapades.

The request by a group of KwaZulu-Natal lawyers for a legal review raises the spectre of the relentless surge of legal actions that

helped Zuma stay out of prison and in the running for the presidency.

Those cases demonstrated that money can extend the process to last almost forever.

No one has been fooled by the effort to equate the Madonsela report with that of the interministerial task team (loyalists who investigated themselves as well as their handler).

This week the presidency’s technical, weak and watered down statement stood in for the required response from the president.

It added a further presidential escape clause – the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) also has to complete its report before the president can respond.

The SIU’s Vas Soni confirmed that we could expect this one towards the end of May (read: after the presidential inauguration).

Conveniently, there was no mention of the December 18, 2013 presidential proclamation that the SIU would simply investigate the “unlawful” conduct of companies, their bosses and government officials involved in the development.

These events illustrate the extent to which the incumbents are manufacturing the charade that they are playing by legal, constitutional and investigative rules.

In fact they are pretend-using the rules exactly to subvert procedures and principles.

While playing this sophisticated game, Zuma has demonstrated blatant disregard for court rulings. The judicial ruling for him to hand over the spy tapes lingers.

Again, previous experience has been invaluable. This is the ANC that elected Zuma into power in Polokwane in 2007.

The 783 arms deal-related charges against him required a political solution for Zuma to become president.

The modus operandi to let the charges go away set the table for what was to come: legal processes were influenced, while intelligence and tricks spirited Zuma’s charges away.

Polokwane also insisted that the Scorpions be dealt with. The Hawks entered – meekly.

It was an ANC that used legal and government processes to achieve its objective of protecting the chief patronage agent.

It was exactly this ANC that also re-elected Zuma in Mangaung, shielded by various anti-corruption pronouncements.

It held itself out as the new hope for clean government in South Africa, albeit not in the lifetime of the re-elected president.

Mangaung was all about the leader, and anointment of his close circle of party lieutenants.

Guptagate of April last year demonstrated arrogance in power and the Zuma regime’s stomach turning conflation of public

resources and leadership perks.

Entitlement ruled. The level of blame apportionment was also an eye-opening harbinger of things to come.

Even more, the pattern of intelligence and security backgrounds of Number One ensured that there would not be a trace; no fingers pointing to the big chief.

Ministers scrambled to defend, pay their dues to the great leader, and started booking their places in the May 2014 cabinet.

The August 2012 Marikana massacre was a different type of event, but the lack of assumption of responsibility by the government of the day reverberates there too.

A year-and-a-half later the search for scapegoats continues.

This is the story of the operational principles that maintain a faction of the ANC in power.

Can it dare to hold itself out to scrutiny by the ANC in general (if it still exists) and by its own supporters and the citizenry at large? Unless it does and gives the space for a different ANC to emerge, the Zuma ANC is set to shrink even further.

It will need even more underhanded tactics to maintain itself in power.

It is equally the story of a group of people in government who do not care that they may be bringing down the “house” of government as they themselves fall into disrepute.

This system of subterfuge and shadows is a fragile house of cards: which one, when pulled, will cause it to tumble?


* Booysen is professor at Wits University’s School of Governance and author of The ANC and the Regeneration of Political Power.

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

Sunday Independent

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