Zuma opens up on Syria, Phiyega before jetting to Russia

President Jacob Zuma spent Tuesday morning before his trip to Russia cozying up to the media, briefing them on pertinent national and international matters, while asking them to promote hope and unity through their reporting.

Unusually, Zuma was accompanied by the majority of his Cabinet ministers, who mingled with journalist and editors at the Sefako Makgatho guest house in Pretoria.

Zuma spoke on a variety of matters including the crisis in Syria, Nelson Mandela, Zimbabwe and the police. Individual ministers also chatted to the media, taking questions on their departments. 

On Syria, Zuma reiterated his stance that countries should try to utilise the United Nations Security Council to resolve matters, in effect criticising the US's stated intention to attack Syria for unleashing chemical weapons on its citizens. "South Africa is not qualified to prescribe the kind of punishment that should be used against countries for using chemical weapons against its people. If we support individuals, we might have war. We don't want the world to be run by individuals, but a collective in the form of UN. I don't know if people who are questioning our position on Syria have an alternative."

He expressed happiness that Mandela had finally been discharged from hospital and was now at his Houghton home. But Zuma had no response to calls that Mandela should be sent to his home in Qunu, saying it was up to the family to decide that. He said the Southern African Development Community had accepted the outcome of the Zimbabwean elections and had no basis to question them. “We believe democracy has returned to Zimbabwe," he said.

He praised the national police commissioner, Riah Phiyega, saying she was competent and that he was satisfied with her performance despite the controversy surrounding her appointment and reversal of appointment of Bethuel Zuma as the new Gauteng provincial commissioner.

Drunken driving charges
Phiyega appointed Bethuel Zuma as the Gauteng provincial commissioner earlier on Saturday in Pretoria but had to withdraw the appointment after it was discovered he was facing drunken driving charges. Phiyega said she was not aware of the criminal investigations against Zuma.

"I became aware of the court charges against Major General Zuma just after the media briefing today. I immediately met with him to establish the facts," Phiyega said in a statement on Saturday.

"He confirmed that indeed he has appeared several times in court since 2008 when the matter was first heard. He will be appearing again next month, during September 2013."

Zuma said Phiyega deserved to be complemented for acting swiftly after receiving the information.

Spy tapes
The subject and question that appeared to unnerve Zuma from his otherwise friendly demeanour was about the spy tapes that controversially cleared him and which the Democratic Alliance has battled to access for the past two years.

Waving his hands to indicate that he knew nothing and did not want to comment about spy tapes, Zuma said he never listened to the tapes, as this was a matter that was dealt with by his lawyers.  

He said the matter was out of his control. "I never touch [court] papers. It's a matter that is dealt with by my lawyers. I don't usually want to comment about matters that are before courts. My lawyers are dealing with that." 

Asked why he was appealing the high court ruling that he should submit the tapes, Zuma claimed he had nothing to do with the decision to appeal the matter but it was his lawyers who did that.

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Rapule Tabane
Guest Author
Matuma Letsoala
Guest Author

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