Zuma charming, but a constitutional danger, says DA

Charm and charisma may be the greatest weapons in President Jacob Zuma’s political armoury, but he is a danger to the Constitution, the Democratic Alliance (DA) warned on Thursday.

“Charisma never saved a constitution, nor did charm,” DA leader Helen Zille said at the launch of her party’s annual Cabinet report card, in which Zuma scored very low.

“We settled on three out of 10 as an overall mark for the president,” she said, at the same time conceding she had a lot to learn about charm from Zuma, who was disarmingly warm, approachable and affable.

However, she went on to say that unless he was stopped, he would go down in history as the president who “destroyed” South Africa’s Constitution.

“Instead of providing an effective brake on power abuse, independent institutions are becoming extensions of the African National Congress [ANC], and instruments of the party’s power abuse,” Zille said.

Examples of this included the dramatic events in the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) earlier this year.

“We had the firing of National Director of Public Prosecutions [NDPP] Vusi Pikoli ... In the absence of any rational explanation, the only reason for Pikoli’s axing was that he refused to drop fraud and corruption charges against Jacob Zuma.

“Next came the decision ... to withdraw all charges against Zuma on what can only be described as irrational grounds.

“The culmination of the assault on the National Prosecuting Authority was Zuma’s appointment of Menzi Simelane, who has a history of resisting the constitutionally enshrined independence of the NDPP.

“Through this appointment, President Zuma effectively put Colonel Sanders in charge of the chickens.”

A similar travesty had occurred in the Judicial Service Commission, a key constitutional institution, “whose independence was seriously compromised in the past year, with lasting consequences for the health of our democracy”.

These were two critical matters, Zille said.

Overall, Zuma’s presidency in the past seven months had been marked by “a yawning gap between words and action; a triumph of style over substance”.

Zille noted that the more she criticised Zuma, the more charming he became towards her.

“In fact, I almost feel embarrassed and I feel kind of bad about it ...
the best weapon that he can use against me is his complete charm.

“Because every time I’ve been really, really tough on him in the public arena, he meets and greets me as if he’s been dying to see me for a very long time and he couldn’t be warmer and more generous.

“And that is why he’s completely disarming ... I feel really bad that I’ve been critical of him. And then I have to steel myself when I next have to be critical of him, knowing that my job is to defend the Constitution, not a person who I like personally,” she said.

Zuma was not alone in the Cabinet when it came to scoring low on the DA’s report card.

The Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya, and Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana both scored 2,5 out of 10 for their performances, the lowest among a Cabinet the DA rated on average as a 4,9.

Zuma’s deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, managed a modest 5,5, while the top scorers were Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan (8,5), Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk (8) and Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor (7,5).

Among the criteria used to assess Cabinet members’ performances were the Auditor General’s report on departments’ financial discipline, ministers’ spending on vehicles, the amount spent on post-Budget parties, and the number of parliamentary questions incumbents had actually answered.

Zille said in the long term Zuma would not be judged on his charm or his ability to say what people wanted to hear. He would be appraised on concrete action and leadership.

“This sometimes requires him to say things that people do not want to hear ... Jacob Zuma’s real litmus test will be his commitment to uphold the Constitution. He is already failing this test in rather dramatic fashion,” she said.—Sapa

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