Zuma's mastery in evading questions
ANC president Jacob Zuma’s appearance at a press conference after KwaZulu-Natal High Court judge president Vuka Tshabalala took six minutes to rubber stamp the NPA’s decision to drop charges against him, remained a study of Zuma’s predilection for copping out of full disclosure when questioned—despite his constant protestations that he has nothing to hide.
Over the years Zuma has mastered various mechanisms—self-deprecation, jocular deflection, bullying, playing the country bumpkin, the need of a hearing aid and blaming the media—when evading questions. This is made easier when the arena of press conferences are ruled with an iron fist, hampering follow-up questions or those requiring clarity.
When asked how his legal team had obtained copies of the tape recordings of conversations between then Scorpions boss Leonard McCarthy and former NPA boss Bulelani Ngcuka, Zuma referred the question to his lawyer, Michael Hulley.
Hulley’s response: ‘To where those tapes had actually emanated from, you’re mindful of the fact that an attorney has professional privilege and under those circumstances I am not at liberty to divulge any of that”.
The sound of the door being slammed shut to that line of enquiry was accompanied by loud cheering and laughter from Zuma supporters like South African Communist Party general secretary Blade Nzimande, Congress of South African Trde Unions general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, Minister of Transport Jeff Radebe and various other acolytes.
On whether Zuma could reveal knowledge of improprieties in the arms deal or possibly set up a judicial commission of inquiry after the elections, he took a club to the media: ‘I know that there is a saying that is moving in the media that I said I will expose people linked to the arms deal. I don’t remember where I said this; even the opposition have been repeating this. What I said here in Durban, I think I was appearing for the second time in the regional court — I said that one day I will say why I’ve been pursued as I have been—I will talk one day.
‘This has been twisted and spinned and spinned [sic] that I said I will expose people. Some people said that I will go down with people. I don’t know where [I will go down to] exactly. That is part of what imagination emerges almost to become the truth to some people — This is again, one of the problems that I have with the media. They don’t even come and try and check and verify it. They just take the story from another report and politicians ride on the same wave. Because that is what I am hearing: that Zuma must talk because he knows about the arms deal. When the arms deal happened I was here in the province, not in the national [government]. How would I know the details of what happened and the details that I must then expose? I think this has been another imagination. Another handkerchief that has been turned into a dove”.
While he chose to ignore whether his government would institute an inquiry into the arms deal, the ANC president’s response was disingenuous.
The Mail & Guardian reported in January that the ANC would also make representations to the NPA on why Zuma’s charges should be dropped. Two NEC members confirmed that part of the representations would be the ANC’s report on its internal investigation into the arms deal. As party president, Zuma is privy to this report.
ANC treasurer Mathews Phosa also told the M&G that the ANC would raise the issue of Zuma being singled out: ‘There’s a strong feeling that other characters were involved and should go to court as well,” Phosa said.
On whether Zuma would reveal where he was on the weekend of March 10 and 11 2000—his former financial advisor Schabir Shaik during his corruption trial confirmed that he had set up a meeting with Zuma and Alain Thetard, former head of Thompson CSF’s (Thales) South Africa division to facilitate a R500 000-per-annum bribe on March 10—Zuma responded by saying: ‘Where I was on the 11th and 12th — this question has always been asked wrongly and everybody has been following it. It is an issue that relates to the substance of the matter and I answer this question all the time in Parliament — it has always been asked wrongly and that is not my business, to help people ask the correct question. Some people have even won an award on this wrong question.”
Such opaqueness may work in personal defence of an individual who increasingly refers to himself in the third person, but whether it will facilitate the accountable governance of South Africa is doubted.