Seven months of dodging Thuli leaves JZ cornered

President Jacob Zuma had seven months to prepare his responses to state capture allegations and still he used his four-hour long interview with former public protector Thuli Madonsela to argue technicalities. A transcript of Zuma’s interview with Madonsela, released as an annexure to the public protector’s State Capture report, shows that Zuma’s legal adviser, Michael Hulley, argued that the president was a very busy man and needed further time to prepare responses to the questions put to him.

Madonsela, however, pointed out that the president had more than seven months to prepare his responses.

“We asked you, sir, on March 22 to respond to the issues that are being raised. That was April, May, June, July, August, September – seven months. There were seven months for us to receive a version from the president,” she said to Hulley.

The interview appears to have been conducted along cordial lines, but grew increasingly terse as Hulley continued to shield Zuma from Madonsela’s questions.

The former public protector’s office itself drew attention to Zuma’s deflections during the interview last month.

“For the greater part of the four-hour meeting, the president’s legal representative argued that the investigation be deferred to incoming public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane on the grounds that there wasn’t enough time to conclude the matter properly and that there was no reason for the investigation to be prioritised,” the statement said.

Responding to Hulley’s indications that the newly appointed public protector could continue the investigation, Madonsela further indicated that the president was the first person she wrote to when she began the probe.

For the most part, Zuma refused to provide substantive responses to the allegations put to him. He did however point out that offers of ministerial positions could not be made without his explicit knowledge.

“I know that I’m the only person who appoints ministers. No other person can make an offer to somebody about my responsibility. I’m just saying these are things that I need to think about, why would such people make such assumptions? What would it mean at the end?” he said.

Zuma however said that he was unable to speak to the public protector, as he did not believe his version of events would be treated fairly.

“Even if I tell the truth, I don’t think the presiding officers will accept it,” he said.

Now the final report has been released but the president can argue that he did not in fact actually respond to the allegations contained therein. But what exactly does he have to hide? And what could he possibly say now that he could not have prepared in seven months?

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Khadija Patel
Khadija Patel pushes words on street corners. She is the editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, a co-founder of the The Daily Vox and vice chairperson of the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI). As a journalist she has produced work for Sky News, Al Jazeera, The Guardian, Quartz, City Press and the Daily Maverick, among others. She is also a research associate at WISER (Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Witwatersrand) and has previously worked in community media. In 2017, she was among 11 people from across Africa and the diaspora who were awarded the inaugural Africa #NoFilter fellowship from the Ford Foundation and in 2018, she was awarded honorary membership of the Golden Key Society. She is passionate about the protection and enhancement of global media as a public good.

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