What the new year holds for Zuma
Legal and political bumps abound on the president’s road through 2013
Still basking in the glory of a resounding political victory at Mangaung, it will be back to reality for President Jacob Zuma when he returns to his desk in a few days.
2013 will bear a number of challenges for the president in the political and legal arenas.
Zuma will have to jump three potentially damaging legal hurdles if he wants to see out his term as president: Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s Nkandlagate probe, the arms deal commission and a court case by the DA challenging the dropping of his corruption charges.
Madonsela initiated her probe in the wake of City Press’ revelations three months ago that the public works department had paid more than R200 million for renovations to Zuma’s private residence at Nkandla.
The department has defended the spending, saying it was for necessary security upgrades to citizen number one’s residence.
But subsequent leaks have showed the government renovations to include a tuck shop, a cattle culvert and a private clinic.
Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi has suggested strongly that contractors working on the project overcharged the government.
While he is also conducting his own review, Madonsela’s office is mandated to investigate the entire design and execution of the project.
She has been fearless in her probes of high-profile politicians, including Zuma, who she found against in 2010 for his failure to declare his financial interests.
That the former public works minister personally informed Zuma on the extent and progress of the project could mean Madonsela needs to interview the president.
Judge Willie Seriti’s arms deal commission of inquiry starts its public hearings in March. Although Zuma is not on the initial list of 12 witnesses, it is widely expected that his name and role will surface during the course of the commission’s work.
Of specific interest will be the relationship between Zuma and French arms firm Thales, which won the tender to supply combat suites to the navy’s corvettes.
Thales was part of a joint venture with Zuma’s former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, who was found to have solicited a bribe on Zuma’s behalf from the arms firm.
Another legal disturbance to Zuma’s year will be the DA’s renewed attempt to obtain the so-called spy tapes that led to the withdrawal of Zuma’s corruption charges.
So far the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has refused to release the tapes they used in Zuma’s case to the DA, despite an order by the Supreme Court of Appeal that all relevant, non-confidential information should be disclosed.
The tapes were declassified by the National Intelligence Agency before they were given to the NPA, which makes it difficult for the authority to argue confidentiality.
Politically, Zuma’s power has been strengthened after three-quarters of the ANC’s delegates in Mangaung voted for him.
Zuma’s two biggest challenges in the remaining 18 months of his term as South African president will be to keep his diverse constituencies in business and labour happy, and to convince his ANC comrades that, counter to a recent survey, he can still pull the votes in the 2014 general election.
In 2009 under his leadership, the ANC got more crosses on ballot papers, but its proportion of the vote shrunk, and there has been talk of replacing Zuma with his ANC deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, in 2014 to fight the DA’s encroaching presence in the polls.
Zuma’s January 8 speech, which is set to take place in Durban in two weeks’ time, will indicate the ANC’s priorities for the year.
These intentions will be confirmed in Zuma’s state of the nation address about a month later, and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s budget vote a few days after.
Growing the economy while at the same time being mindful of the Marikana massacre is top of the government’s agenda.
This will be guided by the National Development Plan, which was co-authored by Ramaphosa.
The plan doesn’t have the full support of the unions, which reluctantly supported Zuma’s second term ahead of Mangaung.
In Parliament Zuma will face an onslaught from the opposition benches, including an attempt at a motion of no confidence. This is set to fail, but will serve as a reminder that the love for him on the outside isn’t as big as it is inside the ANC’s own broad church.
- Adriaan Basson and Carien du Plessis