Zuma still has a lot to answer for




It’s pitch-dark.

My feet are already on the floor and moving me out of the bedroom by the time my brain starts to wake up. I head for the kitchen. I’m in a rush to get my son’s breakfast on the go before getting stuck into my column, which I need to finish by 10am if I am to give former president Jacob Zuma’s fourth day of evidence before the Zondo ­commission into state capture my undivided attention.

I’ve been glued to the TV screen since uBaba, as Zuma is known to the Faithful, started his testimony on Monday, but my viewing has been interrupted far too often by work.

For once, I wish I was in Jozi and not in Durban. The Zondo commission makes for fascinating TV viewing, but it’s a distant, disembodied experience, far less fulfilling than being in the room. It’s like watching football on TV, rather than at the stadium, all overview and commentary but none of the atmosphere, noise and heat that comes with being in the crowd. I guess it’s like listening to the Amandla Freedom Ensemble on CD, rather than watching them on stage, up close and personal, knowing that you are participating in a moment that will never be repeated, hearing a series of notes that will never be performed exactly this way again.

It is what it is.

The kettle and stove are already on by the time I come awake properly and remember, with a mixture of relief and disappointment, that there won’t be a fourth day on the stand for Nxamalala.

Zuma’s counsel, advocate Muzi Sikhakhane, pulled the plug on the hearing after lunch on Wednesday after the ever-patient Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo made it clear that his client was going to have to answer to the allegations of impropriety against him beyond simple denials or declarations of failure to recall.

Sikhakhane argued that Zuma was being ambushed by questioning him further and that he had been brought before the commission under false pretences. Nxamalala would, Sikhakhane said, have to consider whether to continue on the stand.

Fair enough, even if the false-pretences assertion is a little bizarre. What were Zuma and Sikhakhane expecting the commission to do, given that its mandate is to ask questions of people who have been named as being implicated in state capture and the reality that Zuma’s name had, indeed — to borrow a Zumarism — been named? Were they anticipating that the evidence leaders would spend their time making the old man tea? Muffins, maybe? Perhaps they were hoping that Zondo would give Zuma a foot massage and a manicure. Perhaps there was an expectation that Paul Pretorius would invite Zuma to sing.


To be honest, I’d expected both the walkout and the spy claims, which Zuma had been building up to from the time the National Prosecuting Authority reopened the corruption case against him and the ANC recalled him from the presidency. Nxamalala had clearly been gagging to drop the hammer on some of his enemies in the ANC since then, so no surprises there. Our man has been the master of the “intelligence report” since the 1990s, so why stop now?

Interjections from his legal team or not, five days was never going to be enough time for Zuma to answer the allegations against him, especially when he was given a chance to freestyle at the start of his time on the stand. The former head of state can talk for hours without saying anything of substance, as we discovered so many times on the campaign trail with him — and during his nine years of office — so five weeks on the stand would have been more appropriate.

Whether Zuma goes back on the stand or not on Friday — if he doesn’t, he opens himself up to being subpoenaed, unless he goes to court to challenge the existence of a body he appointed himself — we have learned a few things since Monday.

Zuma’s memory is poor when it comes to recent events, the recall of which might force him to take responsibility for his actions, but marvellous when it comes to recalling the content of 30-year-old reports, which only he and the late Joe Nhlanhla have seen.

The former head of state believes he was a part of the conspiracy against himself — he appointed the commission, after all — and likes to stay hydrated, but is not so fond of answering questions.

And, most importantly, we finally know what “meandos” are …

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper

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