Former president Jacob Zuma has been backed into a corner, and he is coming out of it fighting.
The Zondo commission is just few weeks into its work and already has brought to the surface several serious allegations about the misuse of state resources for the benefit of the Gupta family.
So far, little evidence has directly implicated Zuma. It emerged last week that Zuma would not be applying to cross-examine Zondo commission witnesses because he had not been implicated.
But Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo said on Thursday that he would like the former president to respond to evidence provided by Themba Maseko and former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor.
Mentor told the commission that the former president had emerged from one of the rooms of the Gupta compound during a 2010 meeting with Gupta patriarch, Ajay. During his testimony, Maseko alleged that he had received a call from Zuma when he was on his way to meet Gupta that same year. Zuma allegedly told the then head of government communication and information system to help the Guptas.
The scrutiny of Zuma is only set to further increase as his court date draws closer. Outwardly, he appears unruffled.
Speaking to South African Students Congress (Sasco) members at Walter Sisulu University (WSU) auditorium on Wednesday, where he received a rapturous welcome, Zuma rejected the notion of a captured state.
“My view, and I’m not disagreeing with anyone, is that these are political decorated expressions. There is no state that is captured, even when people try to describe it, worse when they give evidence,” Zuma said. “There are some people who were doing things with other people. Individuals. Not a single one of the three [Legislature, Executive and Judiciary] is captured.”
Political analyst Somadoda Fikeni said the speech proves Zuma has been backed into a corner. Later this year Zuma is due back in court to answer charges of corruption. “He is unhappy to appear in court,” Fikeni said.
Zuma then can be understood to be framing allegations of wrongdoing levelled against him and his allies as a political conspiracy. “He is trying to coin the narrative of state capture being political once again,” said Fikeni.
Political analyst Ebrahim Fakir said Zuma’s comments on state capture ignore the element of corruption that is part and parcel of state capture because “he [Zuma] is implicated in that”.
Fakir said Zuma is doing nothing new and that he is “abusing process” as he had done so as president. Fakir noted that Zuma is accustomed to using the rules of the party for his own purpose.
The former president’s appearance at WSU follows a report by the Sunday Times newspaper that Zuma met with ANC secretary general Ace Magashule and ousted North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo in Durban last week.
During the clandestine meeting the unseating of President Cyril Ramaphosa was reportedly discussed. After a series of bizarre rejections, Magashule then admitted to meeting with Zuma but denied that it had anything to do with removing Ramaphosa.
Fakir argues that Zuma has the right to meet with party officials and it does not necessarily have to be for the purpose of some conspiracy to oust the current president.
“They could have been discussing a new flavour of coke,” Fakir said, noting that officials meeting is not out of the ordinary.