POLITICS

A Snarling, Growling Jacob Zuma Goes On The Offensive

The president and his cronies have been stung by Jacques Pauw's book. We shouldn't put anything past him.

03/11/2017 18:42 SAST | Updated 03/11/2017 18:42 SAST
Tafelberg Publishers

ANALYSIS

There was something ominous and scary about President Jacob Zuma's appearance in the National Assembly on Thursday afternoon.

He had a dangerous, snarling air about him when he spoke during the quarterly parliamentary question-and-answer session. He was on the front foot and aggressive. It was a different Zuma, who as usual dodged questions and dismissed the opposition's demands for accountability: the laugh was still there, but this time he was threatening, growling.

Here was a man under extreme pressure, with his network of patronage and rent-seeking unravelling, but secure in the knowledge that he commands a committed praetorian guard who will mobilise state institutions in his defence.

Zuma was wearing a new, expensive and shiny three-piece suit, complete with a purple silk handkerchief in his jacket's breast pocket. The Malusi Gigaba-like bespoke outfit was a departure from his often ill-fitting suits, standard-issue for senior civil servants. Here was a man under extreme pressure, with his network of patronage and rent-seeking unravelling, but secure in the knowledge that he commands a committed praetorian guard who will mobilise state institutions in his defence.

Then the president said something quite remarkable, and in hindsight, prescient. After batting away questions about Jacques Pauw's book ("The President's Keepers") he leaned forward and with reference to calls for an inquiry into state capture said: "There's been too much talk about corruption... Those who are calling for it, [are] going to regret it."

On Friday Pauw and his publishers, NB Publishers, were served with a four-page letter from law-firm Kgoroeadira Mudau Inc. demanding that the book be removed from all bookshelves countrywide and that the publishers stop printing and distributing copies. The firm is acting on behalf of the State Security Agency (SCA), which under former political head David Mahlobo has seemingly become Zuma's most trustworthy state institution.

Zuma has been acting with impunity for years, with no legal or political repercussions for his actions.

The spooks argue that the book's revelations expose the inner workings of the spy agency and "compromises the security of the state". Pauw alleges in his book that Arthur Fraser, current director-general of the SSA and the country's top spy, was involved in massive fraud and corruption during a previous stint at the institution and that he was supposed to have established a "parallel intelligence structure". It also seems that Fraser was instrumental in helping to force the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to drop the corruption charges against Zuma in 2009. Pauw describes Fraser as "untouchable".

Zuma has been acting with impunity for years, with no legal or political repercussions for his actions. The ANC and its leaders have repeatedly cowered and whimpered before Zuma's power. On Thursday it plumbed new depths, issuing a North Korean-like, sycophantic statement praising a Zuma for his "undeterred commitment to account to the people of South Africa". Democratic institutions, like the Public Protector and the SA Revenue Service (SARS), have been neutered and blocked from fulfilling their mandate.

The president is feeling the heat -- of that there is no doubt. He has been enormously successful in maneuvering his keepers (to quote Pauw) into key positions and preventing the type of investigation Robert Mueller is conducting into President Donald Trump's affairs. But international pressure is starting to bite, with a US department of justice investigation proceeding and British authorities also looking at the affairs of Zuma's friends.

It is also no certainty that Zuma's preferred candidate to succeed him as ANC leader will emerge victorious from the ANC's Nasrec conference in less than seven weeks' time. This means Zuma is cornered and dangerous and he will stop at nothing to ensure his safety and survival. The manner in which the SSA has threatened Pauw and his publisher is reminiscent of a command state where goose-stepping securocrats protect the commissariat from dissidents and rabble-rousers.

We can put nothing past Zuma now. All options for survival are on the table: a state of emergency, martial law, the suspension of habeas corpus or the postponement of the ANC's elective conference.

Zuma and his outriders have been stung by Pauw's book. As Barry Bateman from Eyewitness News tweeted: "We know then that Pauw is bang on the money".

Neither Zuma, the Hawks or he NPA have lifted a finger to investigate state capture. But the SSA wants to come down on a journalist and a publishing house with a sledgehammer because of a book.

We can put nothing past Zuma now. All options for survival are on the table: a state of emergency, martial law, the suspension of habeas corpus or the postponement of the ANC's elective conference.

This is a man who has no regard for the history of his own party, who has repurposed the state for his own ends and who shows scant regard for transparency and the spirit and rule of law. He is capable of anything.