President Jacob Zuma appeared before the National Council of Provinces on Tuesday where he answered questions on the public protector’s state capture report and the charges against Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.
The president distanced himself from any interference in the case against Gordhan or any undue actions with regard to his application to interdict the public protector’s report.
“I think its important for me to tell the honourable member that as a citizen of this country I have a right, a legal right, to exercise my rights. This is what I’ve done in terms of the public protector’s report.
“I interdicted it because she was going to issue a report having not talked to me or asked me questions,” Zuma said.
The president was answering a question posed by the Democratic Alliance’s Jacques Julius. In his answer, Zuma reiterated that he was within his rights to interdict the report – which investigated allegations that the Gupta family has benefited from state resources and appointed ministers in Cabinet through their friendship with Zuma – because the Public Protector Act allows him to do so.
“It is in fact within the act of the public protector that those who are to be questioned, they have a right to do what I’ve done,” Zuma said.
“There’s nothing wrong…”
Former public protector Thuli Madonsela announced before she left office that, in a meeting she had with Zuma earlier this month, the president had asked that the state capture report be deferred to current public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. Zuma and his legal team had argued, she said, that they did not have time to prepare answers with legal advice to the questions Madonsela had sent.
Madonsela said, at the time, that Zuma had made this argument despite acknowledging that Madonsela had advised him in writing about the allegations against him as early as March 22.
Although speculation has been rife that the presidency has applied to interdict Madonsela’s report in an effort to prevent damning evidence of wrongdoing being released, Zuma maintained on Tuesday that chapter nine organisations and institutions that are meant to be independent have not been tampered with.
Support for Gordhan and no interfence in independent institutions
The Democratic Alliance’s Willem Faber asked Zuma about the economic conditions in South Africa after the fallout from the charges against Gordhan. The president pledged Cabinet’s support for Gordhan and said the National Development Plan had built a framework for the country to set economic goals.
“As Cabinet, we have expressed our full support for the minister while respecting the independence of law enforcement and [the National] Prosecution Authority,” Zuma said.
“The support is being expressed because of the belief in the rule of law and in the fact that the minister has not been found guilty of any crime. He is innocent until found guilty by a competent court,” he added.
In a follow up question, Faber asked the president about the reported meeting that took place with national director of public prosecutions Shaun Abrahams at the ANC headquarters at Luthuli House the day before Gordhan was charged. Zuma said that he had no such meeting with Abrahams about the charges against the finance minister.
“The meeting that the honourable member is referring to … that meeting was a meeting between the president and the security cluster discussing a totally different matter, not the matter of any arrests,” Zuma said.
The DA’s Beyers Smit spoke on the economic beating South Africa had taken after Gordhan was charged, and asked if Zuma would intervene in the matter to prevent any more damage. The president responded by saying that institutions must remain independent and that South Africa respects the law.
“This country adheres to the Constitution and the rule of law. No individual is given a right within that to interfere with independent processes and decisions of independent institutions. I think that if this president was to interfere in any matter – either of chapter nine institutions or other institutions – then it would be closer to a banana republic,” Zuma answered.
“[There is] no intervention you can make when you don’t know what is happening. Once the law enforcement agencies act and take matters to court, only the court can look and judge on that matter. No individual can intervene, he said.
His answers were met with some scepticism as a result of the continued alleged conflict between the presidency and treasury, particularly with regard to treasury’s hard-line approach to prevent any further alleged influence from the Gupta family.