Last week we were pleasantly surprised to see President Zuma acting decisively, removing corrupt and incompetent ministers, suspending Police Commissioner Bheki Cele, and launching a credible “Arms Deal” probe. This new arms probe is promising given the appointment of three neutral and independent judges to the Commission. We are cautiously optimistic.
These moves were unusual for Zuma who is certainly not known for being decisive when it comes to corruption. So why has this changed? And why now, when the DA has been calling for these actions for some time?
There are a few theories as to the reasons for this “spring clean. Firstly, it is suspected that all those skeletons heaping up around President Zuma were becoming impossible to ignore for much longer. Perhaps political pressure or international embarrassment became too much? Last week’s article in The Economist certainly highlighted Zuma’s passive attitude to overpayment and corruption, which is estimated to have cost South Africans R30 billion.
“Though Mr Zuma has repeatedly professed his eagerness to eradicate public-sector sleaze, setting up a plethora of anti-corruption bodies and authorising no fewer than 18 SIU investigations into government departments and other public entities, he has shown himself markedly more reluctant to act against political bigwigs and friends.” (“A can of worms”, 22-10-11)
Furthermore let’s not forget that the Constitutional Court is set to rule next year on an application that may force President Zuma to reopen the arms deal investigation, so this may have been a pre-emptive move.
Finally, and I suspect this may be the real reason, this could be a political maneuver to secure a second term as president. By acting decisively he has flexed his muscles and shown his opponents that he is not to be challenged. The ANC’s national election conference is being held next year in Mangaung. The Arms Deal report is conveniently only due AFTER the conference, leaving those who could possibly be implicated vulnerable and at the bidding of President Zuma.
So, even though the President has finally done the right thing, we should not be fooled as to “why” he did it. It was a shrewd and crafty move to assert his position in the ANC. This is politics after all. At least this time our country got something out if it too.
This column first appeared in The South African, a UK newspaper, on the 4 November 2011.