JUDITH FEBRUARY: The pendulum swings between hope and despair in South Africa
As President Ramaphosa delivered his reply to the State of the Nation Address, the circus which is ANC politics continued to play itself out on the national stage.
Predictably, former President Jacob Zuma again failed to appear before the Zondo Commission on Monday, 15 February. In its late January judgment, the Constitutional Court ordered Zuma to do so. Again, he acted like the constitutional vandal that he is.
For someone who said he wants his day in court, Zuma is surely doing everything to avoid it. This time his lawyers argued that Zuma could not appear before the commission because he has launched a judicial review against Judge Zondo’s decision not to recuse himself.
It’s all rather absurd. Zuma himself appointed Deputy Chief Justice Ramond Zondo to head up the commission, after all. Judge Zondo has now passed the parcel back to the ConCourt and the commission is applying to the apex court to find Zuma in contempt of court.
The commission will argue that a fitting sentence is imprisonment and not a fine.
Even more predictably, this latest saga again brought to the fore Zuma’s many unsavoury supporters, chief amongst them Carl Niehaus, a man schooled in lies. He is the Rudy Giuliani of South African politics, with only the army fatigues to distinguish himself.
Niehaus is all conspiracy as he, together with Zuma’s family and other ANC acolytes, allege outlandish conspiracies against the former president.
EFF leader Julius Malema usefully adds fuel to this fire for his own personal and political gain.
When Ramaphosa delivered his State of the Nation Address last week, he failed to address the ‘rule of law’ question as Zuma was brimming with defiance for the Zondo commission.
The president missed an opportunity to put his head above the parapet and speak, as head of state, in defence of the Constitution. That was another example of Ramaphosa taking the easy way out and trying not to offend any of his corrupt comrades within the ANC.
Adding to the deliberately stage-managed drama, Police Minister Bheki Cele visited Zuma at Nkandla amidst a flurry of social media speculation regarding another ‘cup of tea’. Quite what Cele was doing there, no-one seems to know. He has said he had ‘broad discussions’ with Zuma and then made a few cryptic comments about ‘law and order’.
Did Ramaphosa send Cele on this hair-brained mission to appease a former president who is also an accused in a criminal trial? Citizens, whose resources have been expended on this visit to a house also built using (abusing) public money, have the right to know why Cele was visiting Zuma and on whose instruction? Or, was he on a frolic of his own? That is entirely possible given the ill-discipline within Ramaphosa’s Cabinet.
Acting Minister in the Presidency, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, has said that “The Minister of Police has a responsibility to make sure that there's compliance to the laws of this country and there is law and order. We know what is happening outside Nkandla. There are displays that are not allowed... Your military gear is worn and all other things...there must be a conversation about how that must be toned down or how that must be stopped because we can't allow the law of this country to be disrespected irrespective of who you are supporting.. You are bound by the Constitution of this country and the law must apply without fear and favor. (sic)"
As for Zuma, he continues to exploit the divisions within the ANC to avoid all accountability for his misdeeds. He and his motley crew of supporters are again threatening to take our constitutional edifice down with them.
What is clear is that the Zondo commission has done its job and now, yet again, the ConCourt must do its job. Despite the histrionics of Malema and Niehaus and the media frenzy about tea, that is where we are.
Populists like Zuma, ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule and Malema use the same playbook and key to this is distraction. We must take care not to be distracted, whether it’s by Niehaus’s rants or Magashule’s supporters (literally) rolling around in fatigues outside the courtroom this week.
The law is taking its course as it should, after all.
In typically contradictory South African fashion, our pendulum swings between hope and despair. As the first health care worker received the J&J COVID-19 vaccine this week, hope was in the air.
It will take a mammoth effort to procure more vaccines, roll out this ambitious programme of vaccinating 40 million South Africans and avoid corruption in the process, that much we know. Our state’s incapacity is well-recorded.
Yet, here in the midst of all the contradictions that is South Africa on any given day, in the middle of Khayelitsha, a place where life is often cheap and the poor suffer daily indignities, nurse Zoliswa Gidi-Dyosi was receiving a life-giving, life-changing vaccine.
She declared herself ‘happy’ afterwards. It was perhaps an understatement given her huge grin, but we understood what she meant. We felt it too and along with that we felt a surge of collective gratitude for Gidi-Dyosi and all our brave health care workers who put their lives on the line every day during this pandemic. They deserve our thanks and our care, as do the scientists who continue to punch far above the weight of this muddled country.
And we should also not take for granted the fact that we have a government that believes in science.
Judith February is a lawyer, governance specialist and Visiting Fellow at the Wits School of Governance. She is the author of 'Turning and turning: exploring the complexities of South Africa’s democracy'. Follow her on Twitter: @judith_february