JZ is the Harry Houdini of politics‚ wriggling himself out of every fix he has been in

Jacob Zuma. Picture credit: Kopano Tlape.
Jacob Zuma. Picture credit: Kopano Tlape.

With the ANC succession race and state capture being the predominant issues in national politics now‚ President Jacob Zuma’s violation of the Constitution and his role in the Nkandla saga has receded in the public mind.

The EFF’s application to the Constitutional Court for a declaratory order directing parliament to probe Zuma’s conduct through an impeachment process brought to the fore that there is unfinished business on Nkandla.

Zuma’s ability to survive multiple scandals and leadership failures is because the ANC has up to now closed ranks to keep pressure off him and tried to mop up his messes‚ to its own detriment.

But it also has something to do with the fact that there is simply too much for the general public to keep up with where Zuma is concerned.

The president rides the ebb and flow of public outrage knowing that over time people will move on.

This happened when his friends‚ the Guptas‚ landed their jet at Waterkloof Air Force Base‚ when the public protector’s report was released showing R246-million had been spent on his Nkandla residence‚ when he fired Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister‚ when the Constitutional Court found he had violated the Constitution and when he executed a midnight cabinet reshuffle axing among others Pravin Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas from the finance ministry.

The March reshuffle provoked unprecedented public anger‚ as was evident in the mass marches around the country‚ and caused turbulence within the ANC causing MPs to break ranks.

But Zuma waits out the furore and goes on as if nothing happened.

It emerged during the Constitutional Court hearing on Tuesday that Zuma has coasted through 27 question and answer sessions on Nkandla in parliament without giving straight answers about his role.

The EFF‚ UDM‚ Cope and DA are seeking the court’s intervention to get parliament to initiate impeachment proceedings because Zuma has successfully subjugated all accountability mechanisms up to now.

For most of Tuesday‚ the judges‚ led by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng interrogated the advocates representing the opposition parties about why the court needed to be involved and why other accountability mechanisms were deficient.

The answer the advocates did not give is that Jacob Zuma is the Harry Houdini of South African politics and has managed to wriggle out of every fix he has been in – wilfully assisted by the ANC.

 The court will have to decide whether there is a basis for it to get involved to force parliament to hold Zuma accountable for his conduct on the Nkandla matter.

Most people moved on from the Nkandla issue after the president paid R7.8-million back to the state for the estimated cost of the non-security upgrades at his home.

But the unfinished business is Zuma’s violation of the Constitution and parliament’s role in holding him to account.

Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi‚ representing the EFF‚ argued that Speaker Baleka Mbete had deflected her responsibility to hold Zuma accountable.

“It is a duty uniquely imposed on the Speaker in the rules home-grown in parliament. She had a duty and she frustrated the discharge of this very function‚” Ngcukaitobi said.

Advocate Ngoako Maenetje‚ representing Mbete‚ conceded that Zuma had committed a “serious violation of the Constitution”. He argued that while Mbete was not averse to the process‚ it was the National Assembly and not the Speaker that should initiate an ad hoc committee to probe the president’s conduct.

This suggests that irrespective of the court ruling‚ Mbete could be amenable to the ad hoc committee being set up.

Advocate Dali Mpofu‚ representing the UDM and Cope‚ said Zuma should be brought before a “fact-finding inquiry” to determine if his violation of the Constitution was an honest mistake or a deliberate deed.

“Did the president violate the Constitution knowingly or did he get wrong advice? If the president’s violation was bona fide‚ then I would agree that it is not so serious. But if it was knowingly‚ then it is serious‚” said Mpofu.

The question is even if such a process were to be set up‚ would Zuma appear before the committee or will the ANC continue to shield him from scrutiny? And if he does‚ would he provide the answers he has successfully dodged for years.

“So much of what we don’t know is in the president’s head‚” Ngcukaitobi told the court.

This is not only true about Nkandla but all the scandals that define the shadowy presidency of Jacob Zuma.