Publication: Cape Times Issued: Date: 2003-09-03 Reporter: Jeremy Michaels

There Are Too Many Unanswered Questions Concerning Your Deputy, Mr President



Cape Times

Date 2003-09-03


Jeremy Michaels

Web Link


No matter how much President Thabo Mbeki wishes it will go away, the scandal around his deputy simply won't.

Mbeki's persistent refusal to give the nation its leader's views on the saga is mind-boggling, not only because Jacob Zuma is the deputy president but also because Mbeki is his boss - and South Africa is not a private company.

Should we deduce from his silence that he is unfazed about the allegations of corruption against the second most important politician in the country? Or should we take the president's flat refusal on two consecutive days this past weekend to answer this journalist's lingering questions as a cue to speculate?

Perhaps the first question is redundant - Mbeki's reputation as a responsible leader is beyond question. Many might disagree with his views on a variety of challenges which face our country, from the fight against Aids to the turmoil in Zimbabwe, but no-one will be able to convincingly argue that Mbeki doesn't care.

And it is for this reason that one must wonder why he refuses to let us in on his thinking about the perplexing state of the presidency's integrity.

If reports in the weekend press are anything to go by, then the brawl in cabinet between Zuma, who was chairing the meeting, and Justice Minister Penuell Maduna, over the Scorpions' corruption investigation into the deputy president, was disturbing to say the least.

What's more, someone who attended cabinet leaked details of the skirmish, and this raises more questions about the political motives driving the apparent campaign to discredit Zuma.

Mbeki's irritation with being asked to comment on the Zuma saga was only too apparent - his "No, no, no, why do you want to ask me about that?" retort was perhaps the most telling sign that the scandal is one of the most compelling crises in his administration to date.

Yes, we were in Ceres - that tranquil dorpie outside Cape Town - on Friday and in Khayelitsha on Saturday as part of government's three-day Western Cape leg of the Imbizo campaign to listen to the people.

But surely Mbeki's suggestion that the imbizo was "more important" than the questions about Zuma is a trifle rich, especially since it was the first opportunity for journalists to probe him since the deputy president had been named in court papers as allegedly having a "corrupt" relationship with his financial adviser, Schabir Shaik.

Of course Mbeki's most trusted aides, both in government and the African National Congress, have been sent out to bat for Zuma and, in so doing, made it clear that the president will not abandon his deputy, or at least not yet.

What is not clear is why Mbeki refuses to say so himself, and why he won't face questions about what is clearly a credibility crisis not only for the presidency, but also for the country.

Zuma is innocent until proven guilty. After all, we live in a constitutional democracy. In any event Zuma has not been given the opportunity to defend himself in a court of law.

But why the deputy president was not taken to court on the basis of the prima facie evidence in the hands of the National Director of Public Prosecutions, Bulelani Ngcuka, is still a mystery.

Ngcuka's argument that the case was not watertight has thrown the country's legal fraternity headlong into an unprecedented debate about the meaning of prima facie and why, in Zuma's case, this was not enough to haul the deputy president before the court.

Even Zuma is livid that he has not been able to defend himself in court.

Our constitution guarantees the independence of Ngcuka's prosecuting authority. Why then did Maduna, a politician - a few days after the fight in cabinet - see it fit to seat himself next to Ngcuka when the news was broken that Zuma would not be prosecuted?

And why does Mbeki think the Zuma scandal will go away when his justice minister says: "It's a sad moment for all of us" that the investigators concluded that the deputy president has a case to answer.

With all due respect to you, Mr President, the questions about the case against your deputy, the head of government's crucial moral regeneration campaign, will persist until you, as head of the country, provide some answers about exactly what is going on.

The argument that this is purely a matter for the justice system holds no water - even Maduna will surely tell you so, or he would have left the national director of public prosecutions to do his work without political interference.

With acknowledgements to Jeremy Michaels and the Cape Times.