Good presidents have difficult second terms. Bad presidents have disastrous ones.
Unfortunately, we have a particularly bad president. Eight months into his second term, Jacob Zuma has confirmed every single doubt there may have been around his suitability – and his ability – to lead this country. He has demonstrated, time and time again, that he has neither the will nor the moral fortitude to put his country before his own vast interests.
We have now reached a point where, in the words of Leonard Cohen, “Everybody knows”.
All but his most loyal sycophants have given up pretending that the emperor is not actually standing there in the buff. As the scandals pile up, the excuses, justifications and counter-accusations trotted out daily by his spin-doctors have become so threadbare that they hardly elicit debate any more.
So what do you do when there is nowhere left to hide? When spin and “good stories” are treated with disdain by all but your loyal “captured” media, what is Plan B?
In Jacob Zuma’s case, Plan B is simply to avoid facing justice by rigging every single investigative institution in his favour.
He knows he’s going to get crucified in the court of public opinion as evidence of his corrupt dealings snowballs in 2015, but he’s pulling out all the stops to ensure that this doesn’t happen in an actual court of law too. He knows he won’t have to pay back the money, or go to jail, if he can just stay out of court.
If it feels like there’s been an exponential increase in media reports of political manipulation, it’s because these incidences have been accelerating at a frightening pace.
In recent newsletters, I’ve written about his brazen attacks on both SARS and the Hawks – institutions that are crucial in bringing high-level corruption to book. His attempts to remove independent thinkers at the heads of these institutions and replace them with loyal cadres, presents the biggest threat yet to our 20 year-old democracy.
These attacks on both the Hawks and SARS have a further (very much-intended) consequence: the cynical dismantling of yet another important graft-busting institution in the Anti-Corruption Task Team (ACTT).
Many of you wouldn’t have heard of the ACTT, but it’s very important that you hear about them now, as Jacob Zuma moves against them too. Launched in 2010, the ACTT is effectively South Africa’s highest profile corruption-fighting body, tasked with fast-tracking high-priority corruption investigations.
It’s a multi-disciplinary team, including representation from the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations (DPCI – also known as the Hawks), the South African Revenue Service (SARS), the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) and the Commercial Branch of SAPS.
This Task Team is chaired by the head of the Hawks, Lieutenant-General Anwa Dramat, and his Deputy Chair is the Head of the SARS anti-corruption unit, Clifford Collings.
Of course, both Dramat and Collings have now become victims of high level purges at the Hawks and SARS, having been either suspended (Dramat) or “moved sideways” (Collings) by Zuma loyalists. With Dramat and Collings out of the way, there is effectively no more Anti-Corruption Task Team.
In Collings’ case, his sideways demotion (he’s now been put in charge of the SARS warehouses) by the new SARS Commissioner and Zuma ally, Tom Moyane, renders the internationally-acclaimed anti-corruption arm of the revenue collector impotent. (It is reported that Moyane used the late delivery, by a few days, of his new R600 000 Audi Q5 as a reason to relieve Collings of his duties).
Collings was purged along with fellow SARS executives Ivan Pillay, Peter Richer and Johan van Loggerenberg, leaving high-level investigations into, amongst others, the ANC’s tax bill, as well as the tax bill of the President himself, on hold. It’s a pretty safe bet to assume that no one remaining at SARS will be in the mood to continue with these investigations.
Dramat’s suspension as Hawks head also appeared to have worked, as he was reported to be considering an early retirement, feeling disheartened and powerless. But Friday’s court victory for the Helen Suzman Foundation in overturning his suspension could see him return to his post with renewed determination to carry out his responsibilities.
The Police Minister (who clearly has an unlimited taxpayer-funded legal budget) has launched an appeal against this ruling, but it is hard to see another court reaching a different conclusion on this. If Dramat remains successfully reinstated, it will be a significant victory for the Hawks, and indeed for independent policing in our democracy.
Launched in 2010 to much fanfare, the Anti-Corruption Task Team has been trotted out regularly as proof of the government’s “zero-tolerance” attitude towards graft. Jacob Zuma has lauded the ACTT in his State of the Nation debate replies and Minister in the Presidency, Jeff Radebe, has gone to great statistical lengths to explain to us just how successful they have been.
But the ease with which he pulled the plug on them in the space of just a few weeks, exposes Jacob Zuma’s hypocrisy when it comes to tackling corruption.
At this stage, all these complex stories of political meddling in our crime fighting and other vital institutions start to become a blur, so it is perhaps useful to recap just how far Jacob Zuma’s reach has spread in his capture of each of these institutions.
Scorpions: Shortly after becoming president, and having temporarily escaped more than 700 counts of fraud, corruption, money laundering and racketeering against him, Jacob Zuma had the Scorpions disbanded. He replaced them with the Hawks, which he conveniently placed under the control of SAPS (whereas the Scorpions operated independently under the NPA).
NPA: The head of the NPA – the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) is appointed by the president. So it is hardly surprising that this post has seen some of the worst “political” appointments in the history of our country. These include Menzi Simelane, Mokotedi Mpshe (who withdrew all the corruption charges against the president without giving a rational reason) and the current Deputy Director, Nomgcobo Jiba. The current NDPP, Mxolisi Nxasana, is firmly in the president’s firing line for daring to reinstate murder and kidnapping charges against disgraced former Crime Intelligence Head (and staunch Zuma Ally), Richard Mdluli.
Hawks: Emboldened by a Constitutional Court ruling that the Police Minister can’t fire or suspend him, the Hawks head, Lt-Gen Dramat, requested a number of files – including that of the Nkandla investigation – to be handed over to the Hawks. The Police Minister went ahead and suspended him anyway and put a Zuma ally in his place. This suspension has since been overturned, but the lines in the sand have been drawn.
SARS: In a sweeping purge, four senior SARS officials, including the Commissioner, were suspended or shifted aside to make way for the Zuma-friendly Tom Moyane. The SARS anti-corruption wing was also left crippled by this purge.
ACTT: The suspension of the Hawks head and the dismantling of the SARS anti-corruption unit has meant that the country’s highest profile investigating body, the Anti-Corruption Task Team, has been rendered useless.
When you add to this list the names of the president’s “security cluster” of cabinet ministers – hand-picked Zuma loyalists through and through – it becomes very clear just how far he has gone in shielding himself from prosecution.
The Afrikaans expression, “laer trek” springs to mind. His unquestioning sycophants have constructed an almost impenetrable laager around him, deflecting the blows and adding a crucial layer of daylight between the president and any decisions taken to eliminate threats.
So we are led to believe it was the Police Minister who decided to suspend Dramat, not Jacob Zuma. And it was Tom Moyane who decided to get rid of the SARS officials, not Jacob Zuma. And it was anyone but Jacob Zuma who authorised the Gupta jet to land at the Waterkloof Airforce Base, and who ordered the lavish upgrades to his Nkandla home.
This shielding of the president isn’t limited to the crime-fighting units either. In an effort to control the narrative about him, he has “captured” a sizable chunk of the media too. In addition to the Gupta-owned ANN7 and The New Age, the transformation of the SABC from State broadcaster to ANC broadcaster through the deployment of cadres like Hlaudi Motsoeneng, is no secret.
But perhaps the most disappointing media capture has been that of Independent Newspapers. The newspaper group’s takeover by Sekunjalo Consortium has seen once-proud titles like the Cape Times become little more than ANC apologists, firing any staff members who don’t agree with this new direction. We’ve even seen their senior editors attending recent ANC rallies dressed in the party’s regalia, and then very publicly defending their right to do so.
It’s all part of the laager. But you’ll notice I said “an almost impenetrable laager”.
Because as long as we have principled individuals in key positions, from the Public Protector, to the head of the Hawks, to judges who apply the law without fear or favour, as long as we have some sources of news that still believe in their duty as watchdogs, then Jacob Zuma will not have won.
It is our job to ensure that democracy wins in South Africa.