01/09/2017 06:03 SAST | Updated 01/09/2017 09:07 SAST

Zuma Says It Best When He Says Nothing At All

The president offered little or no feedback to key questions posed to him in parliament, in what seems to be a trend to detract away from accountability.

REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

President Jacob Zuma, if nothing else, is a master of evasion – his manoeuvre displayed most prominently in the answering of parliamentary questions on Thursday afternoon.

Of course, nobody expected the president to make any significant revelations during the session, but it is not so much about what he did say; rather more about what he did not.

What everybody did expect though, was for opposition parties to cause a ruckus and the Economic Freedom Fighters, as always, delivered.

National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete barely concluded her introductory remarks when the EFF's Godrich Gardee began the fray, declaring the party's distaste in having Zuma address the House because of the allegations against him – something which the red berets have done repeatedly.

But the president remained characteristically calm. He sat undeterred, chuckling on occasion.

The to and fro between the ANC and opposition parties continued for at least half an hour until the president took the stand – boos and heckles echoing in the chamber as he walked towards the podium.

First question: Has Zuma instructed or influenced any state department to award contracts to any member of his family and/or associates?

The question came after recent reports that a sworn affidavit by a former chief director in the Department of Public Service and Administration Brent Simons alleged he had been present when Zuma sent his relatives to cabinet ministers with a clear instruction to help his family members secure contracts where possible.

Also, alleged to be at the forefront of the state capture project, is Zuma's son, Duduzane.

Duduzane is on the board of JIC Mining Services alongside Rajesh Gupta. The company is owned by Oakbay, another Gupta company, which has been involved in a number of controversial deals with state-owned entity, Eskom.

Zuma denied it in parliament.

"I want to make it categorically clear that I have never instructed or directed any state institution to give contracts to anyone whatsoever. Having said that, the issues raised by the leader of the opposition (Mmusi Maimane) in his question are similar to the issues investigated by the (former) public protector in the state of capture report," he said.

He also would not be coerced into disclosing when he would establish his judicial commission of inquiry.

The Democratic Alliance, in a supplementary question, asked about Simon's affidavit. The president did not answer.

Eventually, he said: "I've never sat in a meeting and asked anyone to help Duduzane. Never."

Second big question, this time from the EFF leader Julius Malema: "Why are you not taking actions against those putting you right in the centre of state capture?"

"I don't know whether members want to play politics. Firstly, people every day say something about President Zuma in this country. Should I stand every day and take everyone to court?" Zuma responded.

At most, he revealed that he read the newspapers.

The allegations are serious. They implicate the president in a campaign to absorb state funds into the pockets of an elite. It has caused the ANC reputational damage of the highest extent.

Malema's question is symbolic rather than direct: if the president were indeed innocent, why would he not take action and put an end to some of the party's woes?

The only thing of significance that Zuma told opposition parties was that a proclamation to mandate the Special Investigating Unit to investigate the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) has been signed and was referred to the department of justice and constitutional development for publication.

He did extensively answer questions posed to him by his own party, but these are mostly put to him to praise the accomplishments of the ANC and highlight their strategy going forward.

Detracting away from key questions, simple denials and waiting for parliament to dissolve into a ruckus seems to be emerging as a trend during Zuma's responses to parliament since last year.

The question remains, if the speaker and her deputies are not willing to allow the extensive and rational probe of key issues facing the country, what is truly the point of having the president take the stand?