He’s not concerned about facts, but is building up a case to delegitimise the commission, writes Mcebisi Ndletyana.
The main suspect in state capture, Jacob Zuma, finally had his turn to respond to the allegations. Zuma had always expressed impatience to tell his side of the story.
At some point though, despite the repeated claims, it didn’t look like he would honour the invitation of the Deputy Chief Justice, Raymond Zondo, to appear before the commission of inquiry into state capture.
Zuma insisted on getting questions beforehand and was not happy when the judge declined his request. Judge Zondo explained that was not how the commission functioned. Zuma came nevertheless.
Although he has given three days of testimony, Zuma is not really addressing himself to the commission.
He is addressing his supporters outside the commission in preparation for what is likely to be an adverse finding against him.
While testifying at the commission, Zuma is actually building up a case against the commission, to delegitimise it.
For starters, Zuma dismisses the rationality behind the commission to investigate state capture.
If indeed the commission were investigating state capture, he asserts, then the focus would not be solely on government.
Instead, it would also probe Parliament and the judiciary, for they are also part of the state.
The reason it is focused on the executive, Zuma argues, is because the commission was set up to find something on him.
It is a witch-hunt against him, inspired by a conspiracy to get rid of him. His entire strategy, therefore, is geared at showing that there’s a conspiracy against him.
The problem with Zuma’s conspiracy theory, though, is that it is not quite coherent.
He omits certain details and connects unrelated incidents.
Tracing the supposed conspiracy back to 1990, Zuma identifies his removal as chief of intelligence in the early 1990s as the first attempt in a broader scheme to prevent him from ascending to the leadership of the ANC.
He identifies his detractors as foreign intelligence agencies, including Americans, in collusion with local operatives both within the apartheid government and in his own party.
The reason they wanted to get rid of him, he says, is that he had information about their plot – that is to install ANC leaders who were spies, who, in turn, would do the bidding of their handlers.
The incident Zuma is citing, however, also reveals the falsity of his claim. He was not the only one removed.
Thabo Mbeki, his closest comrade then, was also removed as leader of the ANC delegation in the negotiations at the time.
Mbeki was replaced by Cyril Ramaphosa and him by Mosiuoa Lekota.
This happened while they were both overseas with Nelson Mandela.
On finding out about the development from a television news broadcast, Zuma goes on to recount, they both “wept”. Cleary Mbeki was just as distraught as he was.
He had been leading the negotiations as far back as the mid-1980s with Zuma playing a supportive role. Zuma’s claim that he was the sole target of the removal, therefore, doesn’t make sense.
The falsity of the claim is even clearer when considering who orchestrated the changes. It was not foreign intelligence agencies bent on installing their proxies.
Rather, it was Joe Slovo and Mac Maharaj – the red-blooded communists who were sworn enemies of the Americans who Zuma claims were behind the palace coup.
Their reasons had nothing to do with intelligence. Slovo and Maharaj simply wanted to exert more influence over the negotiation process, something they could not achieve with Mbeki leading the negotiations. Relations between Mbeki and the two men were sour.
Zuma became a victim purely on account of his closeness to Mbeki. He was collateral damage by communist rivals within the organisation, not the primary target he projects himself to be, hunted by foreign intelligence.
Another incident that Zuma cites as evidence of an old conspiracy to remove him is his firing as the country’s deputy president in 2005.
Remember the idea here is to weave together what seems like a coherent story that goes back almost 30 years.
In telling this incident, however, Zuma appears to have forgotten all about the details of the preceding incident.
It was Mbeki who fired him, following allegations that he was involved in corruption.
In citing this incident as yet another supposed work of foreign intelligence, Zuma is insinuating that Mbeki was a spy.
The insinuation is fortuitous. Zuma would never accuse Mbeki of having been a spy. He would be the first one to fend off such accusations.
The relationship may have been strained in recent years, but Zuma probably still admires Mbeki for his role in the struggle.
In this case, however, he has to weave up some story, bringing together unrelated incidents.
Unfortunately for him, because they are based on something that did not happen, the lies are self-revealing.
But Zuma is not concerned about facts. He is constructing a convenient story and facts will get in the way of that story.
The judge in front of him is the least of his concerns. He’s not hoping to convince Zondo.
If Zuma were, then he wouldn’t have mentioned Judge Chris Nicholson’s verdict as evidence of his innocence.
That verdict was not only overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeal, but was severely rebuked as amateurish and partisan.
Zuma probably knows that Zondo is aware of that judgment, but he doesn’t care.
Zuma is mobilising his supporters against a possibly adverse finding by the commission. His lawyers are having a difficult time.
They claimed not to have received documents to prepare for Zuma’s appearance, only to admit later that they actually did.
And, their persistent objections against questions by the commission’s lawyers suggest that they’re looking for an excuse to abort their appearance – which eventually happened on Friday, but which he then retracted.
And, besides the incoherent conspiracy, Zuma’s testimony is just not credible.
Consider, for instance, his answers to former government spokesperson Themba Maseko’s testimony that Zuma intervened on the Guptas’ behalf in an attempt to secure them government advertising spend.
He doesn’t quite deny that he called Maseko on the day he was due to meet with one of the Gupta brothers.
The purpose of the call was to tell Maseko to accede to his request.
But Zuma insists that the call was routine, and he was not looking out for the Guptas’ financial interests, which he claims not to have known about.
It’s implausible that the Guptas would not have solicited Zuma’s intervention to secure government advertisements, nor would he have been disinterested in doing so.
How could he not have been interested in the financial affairs of their television station and newspaper when he admitted to having taken the lead to set them up?
Can anyone really set up an enterprise and not be interested in its financial viability? It’s really not a credible response.
Zuma’s supporters, however, are likely to believe him. Their support is a combination of fanaticism and self-interest.
Judge Zondo has taken great care to be fair and considerate to a point of bending over backwards.
But facts are immaterial to Zuma’s supporters.
The commission, as they see it, is just more reason President Cyril Ramaphosa should be unseated.
They believe Ramaphosa is out to get Zuma and his allies.
Zuma’s testimony at the state capture commission is his way of rallying the troops for resistance against Ramaphosa’s presidency.
Ndletyana is associate professor at the University of Johannesburg
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