We should not be distracted by Jacob Zuma's conspiracy theories

Former president Jacob Zuma continues to give his testimony at the commission of Inquiry into state capture, corruption and fraud in government under his watch. /SANDILE NDLOVU
Former president Jacob Zuma continues to give his testimony at the commission of Inquiry into state capture, corruption and fraud in government under his watch. /SANDILE NDLOVU

Appearing at the state of capture commission this week, former president Jacob Zuma painted the commission as a politicised structure.

As he sees it, the commission is part of the ongoing conspiracy to taint him with corruption and remove him from the political scene.

Outside of the intrigue regarding the alleged infiltration and planting of spies targeted at the former president, Zuma's testimony is significant for unpacking the challenges of governance in South Africa.

Zuma's testimony is important for understanding the consequences of disregarding the principle of the separation of powers.

It is clear from his first day of testimony that Zuma is using the commission to rubbish allegations and official reports that have directly or indirectly linked him to any corruption or impropriety.

It has always been his contention that the public protector's recommendations are not binding and also that Thuli Madonsela's findings against him on the Nkandla security upgrades and on state capture are largely conjecture.

He continues to hold the view that the public protector is a political player rather than an objective referee between the state and the public.

The hallmark of Zuma's administration was the general attitude of resistance to oversight and attempts to hold the president accountable and answerable.

It should come as no surprise given that his entire campaign for the ANC presidency as well as his argument for the dropping of charges in relation to his relationship with Schabir Shaik was premised on this narrative of conspiracy.

Zuma took on the presidency with the mind of an intelligence boss, already sceptical and paranoid about the intentions of state institutions.

How could a president that is cynical about the state edifice, which he believed was engaged in a plot to entrap him, accept the exercise of oversight over his conduct and that of the government under his watch?

Zuma has struggled to accept the oversight authority of parliament as well as the investigative authority of the public protector because he has an attitude of mistrust towards state institutions.

His world view emanates from the logic of conspiracy and because everybody and state institutions have been infiltrated with those who are out to get him, the posture of his administration was to disregard, evade or avoid scrutiny and oversight.

Cabinet ministers during his tenure were known for obfuscation and for failing to appear before parliamentary committees, in some instances.

So conflicted were ANC MPs during this period that they acted more as a rubber stamp to the executive than as members of an independent institution enjoined to act as a check on executive authority and functions.

The processing of the public protector's report on security upgrades at Nkandla illustrates the point most aptly.

It is little wonder that the judiciary was called upon more frequently to adjudicate matters of a political nature than at previous times.

Despite Zuma's contention that the political edifice, including the opposition, is propelled by an agenda to drive him out, it is his resistance of parliamentary authority and his use of the courts to evade the reinstatement of charges against him that popularised political litigation.

If the public protector has been part of the "conspiracy" against him from when Madonsela directed him to pay for part of the upgrades of his Nkandla home, it follows then that her investigation of his relationship to the Guptas - leading to her recommendation of a commission of inquiry - is an extension of that conspiracy.

Zuma's narrative of infiltration, spies and conspiracy has serious implications for the work of the commission.

Should the commission have adverse findings on him and his administration's role in the re-purposing of the state for private interests, it will merely be serving the purpose for which it was initially envisioned: "to bury Zuma".

Zuma's testimony is less an effort to help shed light on the reality and extent of state capture than it is a project to cast doubt on its existence and to save his political legacy.

As observers of the commission we should fight the temptation to be distracted.

This commission is not about Zuma but about how the state has been and is being used to undermine the public interest, and what part he played in that, if any.

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