Even by the standards of our rough, hurly-burly politics, the tit-for-tat statements from the Public Protector and the ANC on Monday were pretty brutal. At one point it even seemed that those in charge of their Twitter accounts were about to come to blows. Through the day there had been accusation, denial, counter-accusation – with a hefty dose of “you don’t respect the Constitution” from both sides. What is clear is that the battle brewing between Luthuli House and Advocate Thuli Madonsela has now broken into all-out warfare. The verbal push and shove is now moving into a full-scale bar fight. And, amazingly, Julius Malema hasn’t been involved in the slightest. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
As always with conflict, context matters. It’s important to know who threw the first punch. This all started on Sunday, when the ANC and the SACP attacked Madonsela, and her writing of a letter to President Jacob Zuma saying that he had not complied with her findings that he should repay a “reasonable contribution” to the government money spent on his Nkandla home. The publication of her letter in two major newspapers clearly irritated the ANC beyond measure. It was clear that for them, it’s Madonsela who is hell-bent on destroying democracy as we know it (just four days after claiming it was Julius Malema).
That Madonsela then felt the need to respond in full is also revealing. For someone as measured and boundaried as she appears to be, to hit back in public is an indication of how serious the stakes are. The ANC’s final statement on Sunday had been short, sharp and just four paragraphs long.
Madonsela’s reply was different. At two-and-a-half pages it was written in what almost amounts to legalese. There was a point-by-point refutation of the claims of the ANC. In other words, this was written by someone with a legal background. She herself is an advocate (more than that, really, considering she was a commissioner at the SA Law Reform Commission) who speaks in a certain way. That cadence absolutely came through in this written response. It seemed clear that this was written by her.
So it’s no surprise that perhaps the biggest “news angle” was kept for the second last paragraph, when Mandonsela said she had been “advised confidentially that it is a senior politician and member of the ruling party that leaked the confidential letter to the media” – conduct she considered “improper”. In other words, she did not leak the letter: it was someone on the other side.
This was what nearly lifted the roof off Luthuli House, and brought forth the wrath expressed in a furious ANC statement – that it was “outrageous and preposterous” for Madonsela to make this claim, plus a demand for her to name the person, a suggestion that her reports had leaked before, and that somehow this was all about public opinion.
Into this mess stepped, rather indelicately, Sunday Times investigative journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika, one of the authors of that paper’s report on Madonsela’s Zuma letter:
@Spiwo @pietrampedi @Hofstatters @CaiphusK_11 @PublicProtector I said it before and will say it again the PP didn’t leak the letter
It’s just a guess, but he seems to be suggesting that he certainly did not get the letter from Madonsela.
Just as there was time to contemplate that, the ANC’s Twitter account @MyANC_ started to tweet its statement. Which drew a rather angry response from @PublicProtector:
@MyANC_ you may tell a lie many times it will not turn into truth. The truth is your member leaked the letter. That’s sad and dishonest.
Suddenly, we appeared to have a political war for public opinion playing out in real time. For possibly the first time in our history, we had statements going back and forth on Twitter. But before it could escalate further, it seems both sides retreated. Or bosses called their juniors in charge of the accounts, and told them to go to bed.
It is always tricky to uncover a leak, but usually you ask the question “who benefits”? In this case, considering the nation of conspiracy theorists we’ve become, you could believe that Madonsela leaked it because she was angry with Zuma’s non-response to her Nkandla findings. Or you could believe that actually someone in the ANC leaked it, because it would allow the party and its formations to attack her.
However, while the ANC has managed to make the question of who leaked the news agenda, it hasn’t provided a proper response to the other points made by Madonsela in her lengthy statement.
The real meat lies in her point that she has consistently said that she would write to Zuma’s office to ask if what he says is her response to her report, is in fact his response to her report. Because, as she points out, and this is where Zuma’s argument may get holed below the waterline, in his document he specifically states that it is “not a critique” of her report and it “offers no comment” on its contents.
In other words, she’s pointing out that it is Zuma himself who’s said that the document entitled “Report to the Speaker of the National Assembly Regarding the Security Upgrades of the Nkandla Private Residence of His Excellency Jacob G. Zuma” and signed by same, is in fact not his formal response.
From a logical point of view, that would seem to indicate that she is on pretty firm ground.
She goes further when she asks how on earth her writing this letter to Zuma undermines Parliament. Or in Madonselanese, “It is therefore unclear in what way her letter to the President has undermined Parliament or what exactly the letter has taken away from Parliament”. Later on she says: “Nowhere in the letter does she tell Parliament what to do”. Strip away the language, and she’s saying there is no basis on which anyone could claim she has over-stepped her powers.
While Luthuli House has been very vocal against Madonsela, the behaviour of its alliance partners is very revealing. The SACP once again confirmed its transition, from political party with an identity of its own, to Zuma-lobby group, by simply joining in the attack. General secretary Blade Nzimande claimed on Sunday that it was “hypocrisy of the worst order” to say that a Public Protector’s finding could not be challenged, pointing to the challenge mounted by DA leader Helen Zille on a finding several years ago. But that was in court. Which surely just leads to the question: why has Zuma not done the same here? Surely that would be the proper and reasonable response?
Really, if a party cannot even publicly object to the transfer of publicly owned roads to a private tolling company, surely it loses the right to use the word “communist” in its title.
COSATU has stayed very quiet. There was a tweet on Sunday night from its general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, in which he also suggested that Zuma should either pay up, or go to court. You can imagine the damage this issue could do to the federation. It appears to still be split between those unions that support Zuma and those that don’t. Anyone bringing this issue up in a Central Executive Committee meeting would surely just be hastening COSATU’s demise.
On Thursday last week, the ANC released at least three statements condemning Malema’s conduct in Parliament. It has now released another volley of statements aimed at the Public Protector. The common denominator is, of course, Nkandla, and the conduct of Zuma himself. The party seems to be tying itself into knots trying to protect him.
Wouldn’t it just be so much easier if Zuma admitted he was wrong? Or have he and the ANC completely lost their souls?