South Africa

SA’s week of turbulence: Madonsela bows out as Zuma rampage intensifies

By his own admission, President Jacob Zuma is an “implicated person” in the Public Protector’s investigation into state capture by the Guptas. He therefore wants to prevent Thuli Madonsela from releasing her preliminary report on her last day in office. This move exposes that Zuma and his cronies have much to hide. In a week of escalating violence over the university fees crisis and the serving of summons on Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and EFF leader Julius Malema, it is apparent Zuma and his clique are losing control and have thrown caution to the wind. Desperate times, desperate measures. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

What is in Thuli Madonsela’s preliminary report on the Guptas that President Jacob Zuma wants to conceal? The Public Protector’s office announced on Thursday night that Madonsela would go ahead with a planned media briefing on Friday, her last day in office, but did not specify whether the “state capture” report would be among those she releases.

Daily Maverick understands that Madonsela will release reports and updates on over 20 investigations her office has investigated. Among these is the alleged corruption related to the memorial services and funeral of Nelson Mandela, workers affected by radiation at the Pelindaba nuclear plant and the violence at the notorious Glebelands Hostel in Durban. She is also expected to report on the investigation into the Joburg billing crisis, four years after the complaint was made to her office. 

But the preliminary report on the Guptas’s involvement in state affairs was to be the showstopper. Thanks to eleventh hour applications by Zuma and his preferred candidate for finance minister Des van Rooyen, Madonsela is unable to present her farewell gift to the nation.

On Monday, the Presidency said in a statement that Zuma “as an implicated person is entitled to the documents and records gathered in the course of the investigation, to enable him to prepare his evidence”.

Zuma therefore wanted an undertaking from Madonsela by close of business on Tuesday that she would not conclude the investigation or issue any report until he received all the evidence implicating him, is able to question witnesses and had the opportunity to tender his evidence.

Madonsela, obviously, did not play ball.

On Thursday, it emerged that Zuma and Cooperative Governance Minister, Des van Rooyen, applied for interdicts to prevent Madonsela from releasing her preliminary state capture report. On the next working day, the investigation becomes the responsibility of her successor Busisiwe Mkhwebane, who might or might not pursue it with the same resolve.

Whatever evidence the Public Protector’s office assembled has obviously rattled Zuma and Van Rooyen. The Guptas, via their lawyer, have also written to Madonsela warning her that releasing a report that in any way implicated the family in “inappropriate conduct” would be “at your own peril and at your own risk”.

Madonsela told News24 that her investigation had focused on three main allegations. These were that the Guptas had offered Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas the job of finance minister, offered a ministerial post to former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor and had exerted pressure on former government spokesman Themba Maseko to direct state advertising to their newspaper. All three of these instances of “state capture” required Zuma’s participation or consent. Mentor has stated publicly that Zuma was at the Saxonwold home of the Guptas when the offer was made to her. Maseko also revealed that he received a call from Zuma instructing him to assist the Guptas.

It is not clear how Van Rooyen is implicated in the investigation but his one-day visit to Dubai, the Guptas’s new base, in December last year might have piqued Madonsela’s interest. According to News24, Van Rooyen’s application, which will be heard at 10am on Friday in the North Gauteng High Court, challenges the Public Protector’s powers to summons him to answer certain questions.

Zuma’s application will only be heard on Tuesday. The Public Protector’s office said on Thursday afternoon that Madonsela was taking legal advice. A media alert issued late on Thursday night about Friday’s briefing said Madonsela would release her last batch of investigation reports and also update the public on progress of other investigations. No details were given.

Thursday was a day of high drama with Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema being served with two summonses for inciting the occupation of land, first at the party’s conference in Bloemfontein in December 2014 and then at a rally in Newcastle in June this year. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) invoked the apartheid-era Riotous Assemblies Act to bring the charges. Malema was served just after addressing a media briefing at the EFF headquarters in Johannesburg. The NPA said they had decided not to charge Malema for “high treason” for his comments during an interview with Al-Jazeera that people would remove this government through the barrel of a gun.

The decision to charge Malema for contravention of the Riotous Assemblies Act was taken by the head of the NPA’s Priority Crimes Litigation Unit Torie Pretorius, who is also leading the prosecution of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan. Gordhan, along with former South African Revenue Services officials Oupa Magashula and Ivan Pillay, were summonsed to appear in court on fraud charges related to Pillay’s retirement package.

The decision to charge Gordhan battered the rand and the markets as the move is widely viewed, even in ANC circles, as a political hit on the finance minister.

At the EFF media briefing, Malema lashed out at Zuma saying billions of rands were lost every time the president took a “senseless decision”. “Every time Jacob Zuma takes irrational decisions, it is the poor that suffer the most, and now is the time the people of South Africa defend their country against a criminal syndicate running the state,” he said.

Malema urged South Africans to join a protest march in Pretoria on the day Gordhan will appear in court (November 2). The demands would include that government must provide free higher education from 2017 onwards; that Zuma must immediately step down as president; that the Guptas “must be disconnected from all state contracts and must immediately leave South Africa”, and that Shaun Abrahams must resign from the NPA.

As protests over university fees intensify, Malema urged students to “soldier on”. “We do not have people with brains sitting around brainstorming how we can find funding for education. The students are right. We have not seen anything wrong done by students except a violent response from the state, the same way the apartheid regime reacted to peaceful protests,” Malema said.

He said the EFF would be tabling a proposal soon on how to fund fee-free education. The proposal would require universal support from all sectors of society, Malema said. 

But a settlement to the fees crisis seems far off, particularly with the Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande saying on Thursday that free higher education was not going to be government policy “for a long time to come”. Nzimande told the commission investigating the feasibility of free higher education that only the poor should receive free education.

“We are a highly unequal society. Those who can afford to pay must pay and those who are rich and wealthy must also pay. It is inappropriate for a society like ours to define decommodification in that manner,” Nzimande said.

This renders negotiations between students and individual institutions moot as there is little space to manoeuvre. Violent protest action is therefore likely to continue with no intervention from government to defuse the situation.

South Africa’s week of turbulence reaches a climax with Zuma and his cronies try to gag Madonsela as she exits the Office of the Public Protector. Depending on what happens in the Van Rooyen application, she has the option of releasing the information as she is not yet bound by the Zuma application.

But Madonsela has distinguished herself by always being principled and on the right side of the law. It is unlikely that her last act as Public Protector would be to overstep the mark to release the report the president and his clique desperately want to hide from the public.

Madonsela bows out to reverence from the nation after her extraordinary service to South Africa. Zuma, on the other hand, seems determined to shred any semblance of dignity left of his threadbare presidency. DM

Photo: Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, President Jacob Zuma (both photos by Greg Nicolson / Daily Maverick)