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The heads that will roll: Zuma allies face an uncertain future

President Jacob Zuma, in his battle to explain unauthorised expenditure in the R247-million security upgrades to his Nkandla home, had the unwavering support of many MPs. But some have now said they were merely following instructions.

The Constitutional Court is still to make a finding on whether or not Zuma failed to uphold the Constitution by not implementing the recommendations in public protector Thuli Madonsela’s Secure in Comfort report.

Should he resign or be impeached, it could affect the future of some of his loyalists – although the ANC isn’t likely to throw them out into the cold because they were part of the group effort to protect Zuma, and because many in the party still remember how divisive the attempts at revenge were after its 2007 conference.

Police Minister Nathi Nhleko
His bid to defend Nkandla’s swimming pool as a water source to fight fires (and therefore part of the security upgrades Zuma is not liable to pay for) is captured in a video clip he made as part of his report on Nkandla to Parliament.

In the ConCourt on Tuesday, his advocate, William Mokhari, said Parliament had asked the Cabinet to look into the report, and the Cabinet in turn had asked him to investigate it. He went ahead with it although he knew what he was doing was unlawful – in other words, he was merely following instructions.

Should he not be moved as part of a reshuffle before the government’s term is up, his future will depend on how well he does his job in the next three years. At best, he hasn’t courted too much controversy – so far.

Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi
Although Nxesi admitted to some irregularities in the security upgrades at Nkandla, he denied that Zuma had a hand in it.

He told Parliament last year that the appointment of the architect, Minenhle Makhanya, was irregular, and the Special Investigating Unit was pursuing a civil claim against Makhanya to recoup R155-million. Nxesi’s department has also taken steps against 12 officials involved in the Nkandla debacle.

Nxesi is in the leadership of the South African Communist Party, which was a strong ally of Zuma, but they have drifted apart. This might save his career.

Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane
Once considered to be part of the so-called premier league in the ANC, Mokonyane’s “bared buttocks” comment in defence of Zuma could now lead to embarrassment.

In response to the Nkandla controversies, Mokonyane said at the launch of a water project in Mpumalanga that the attack was not on Zuma but on the ANC. “Re tlo thiba ka dibono [We will defend with our buttocks],” she said. She was further quoted as saying: “Like it or not, Zuma is ours. He will finish the term because we want water.” 

Mokonyane, who was shunted sideways to the Cabinet from being Gauteng premier, could find herself again shunted sideways, or downwards, unless she starts shining in her portfolio.

She also finds herself out of favour in the ANC Women’s League after she backed the former president, Basic Education Minister Angie Mot­shekga, and lost.

Without a clear support block in the party, Mokonyane will have to re-invent herself. 

Mathole Motshekga, ANC MP
As chairperson of Parliament’s portfolio committee on justice, Motshekga led a strong charge against Madonsela’s office, which accounts to the committee.

At a meeting in October, he called for the laws governing her office to be reviewed and amended, if necessary, after the court ruling on the Nkandla matter. He attacked Madonsela for her report, saying it was “misleading”.

Motshekga has had brighter times in his career – he was Gauteng premier and chief whip in Parliament. It is unlikely that he will rise again.

Depending on what the court finds on the legal matters concerning Madonsela’s report, it might be wise to remove him from the justice committee.

Speaker Baleka Mbete
As the ANC chairperson, Mbete is powerful in her own right, but nowadays there isn’t that much talk in the party about her ambitions to become the country’s first woman president.

But her rise to the position is unlikely to depend on whether Zuma falls from grace or not – he is seen to be supporting his former wife and the African Union Commission chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

In Parliament, Mbete had her hands full protecting Zuma.

But on Tuesday it appeared that Mbete’s lawyer hadn’t been updated on Zuma’s new stance – the president’s lawyers had conceded to the court that he should have heeded Madonsela’s report. Advocate Linda Nkosi-Thomas was left to bumble her way through her submissions.

ANC Youth League president Collen Maine
If the former provincial MEC isn’t sacked from his position as youth league president for failing to mobilise the crowd he promised to support Zuma at Tuesday’s hearings, he is likely to end up somewhere in the party where he cannot do too much harm. 

The ‘premier league’
At least three premiers, Supra Mahumapelo (North West), Ace Magashule (Free State) and David Mabuza (Mpumalanga), have placed their bets on Zuma’s survival. All will have served out their second terms by 2019 and will have to find new roles to play in the ANC and government – for instance, as part of the top six leaders of the party following its conference in 2017, or as ministers come 2019.

Their detractors say these men have been hoping to ride on the popular support Zuma has in the party in a bid to get themselves elected or appointed to positions where they can continue to wield power.

All three have built up powerful empires in their provinces, though. Despite rumours and allegations of corruption and bad governance, they have escaped prosecution so far.

Should Zuma fall before the ANC’s elective conference in 2017 takes place, the premier league members might find themselves out in the cold because they have antagonised many of Zuma’s detractors.

If this were to happen some of them could even face prosecution should there be evidence of wrongdoing.

Other Nkandla MPs
Several ANC MPs were responsible for fudging over Madonsela’s report and for creating the appearance that the correct process was being followed – yet at the same time they were supporting Zuma.

Their show of support appears to have been a party decision, which was adhered to even by those who cannot be said to be blind Zuma loyalists. Should any of them not continue as MPs once Zuma is out of power, it is likely to be for reasons other than those linked to him.

Cedric Frolick chaired the ad hoc committee that looked into the Nkandla report. He did not want to comment on this week’s court proceedings, saying that he would wait for the outcome.

Fellow former committee member Nkhensani Kubayi said the same thing. She is a young, rising star from Gauteng, a province that hasn’t been a strong supporter of Zuma.

Doris Dlakude took over from Kubayi, who was acting in the position of deputy chief whip in June 2013 and when the Nkandla saga came to Parliament. It was also her duty to defend Zuma.

In a meeting of the ad hoc committee on Nkandla, Dlakude defended Zuma by saying “the money they say was used irregularly was not used by the president”.

“The president didn’t build his house with state funds. The public protector says clearly that the president didn’t mislead Parliament and that he and his family built their own houses. All reports agree with that,” she said.

For now the most serious thing these MPs have to deal with is egg on their faces. How their futures play out depends on how well they do their jobs and whether they find favour with the right people.

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