The President Holds the Key: Let’s not defend the indefensible

Commentary

Lets not defend the indefensible. President Zuma has led his party and the country into a quagmire. The recent story in the Sunday Times has further added to the drift, leaving many of us hanging our heads in confusion and disappointment.

Journalist Phylicia Oppelt.

Journalist Phylicia Oppelt.

Phylicia Oppelt’s team has sifted through 3369 pages of court documents and added further detail to the way in which the arms company Thale and Jacob Zuma and his team conducted their business relationship.
The transcripts are of testimony given under oath at confidential arbitration hearings held earlier this year in a fee dispute between Sooklal and Thales.

Confirming earlier allegations, the transcripts reveal how Thales fixer Ajay Sooklal allegedly arranged flights, fancy clothes, legal fees and lavish hotel stays in Europe for the president when he faced corruption charges linked to the arms deal. Thales as some other powerful companies will not even blush.

As we head for 19 October, South African Media Freedom Day, our profession can hold its collective head high for bringing facts to the public attention with regard to this matter. We don’t always get it right but with this matter we have not failed in our duty to the public. To build and further transform our profession, THE JOURNALIST will focus on our strengths and weaknesses this month.

Minister in the `Presidency, Jeff Radebe this week shafted any possibility that the ANC will remove its president. He was at pains to explain that his party operated under rule 10.6 that says it can “alter and review decisions of all bodies (but) not the national conference.” He signaled that the party’s hands are tied and that the president will serve his second term.

I can’t help wondering if those like Minister Radebe who are close to the president care at all for his personal well-being. He has gone from a man known for his jolliness and sharp mind to one who appears haggard and weighed down by the duties of high office. Can it be fair that a man who so many remember and admire for his sacrifices and leadership can be deprived of peace during his aging years?

Can it be fair that his family who suffered his absence during the resistance against apartheid through no fault of their own must now again be dragged through the mud?

He has an extraordinary group of talented children, some mothered by Dr Nkosazana Zuma who has been an exemplary leader. When the painting debacle broke all rules of common decency, his daughter, Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla represented all of the children and asked for the degradation of his being to stop. “The power to artistic creativity does not allow the artist the right to insult the inherent dignity of any person, irrespective of how they might hold the person in disdain,” she said. In court papers in 2012 she said: “I submit that it is not the kind of speech the Constitution protects.

City Press Editor Ferial Haffajee.

City Press Editor Ferial Haffajee.

Demonstrating personal courage, City Press editor, Ferial Haffajee, apologised to her. It was an awful time but we managed as a country to shout and scream and then find some balance. Under the guidance of our constitution, the role of the journalists, the courts and individual courage we transcended this space.

We again require a transcendent moment. It could come through the courts, or parliament, the media or the Public Protector. These institutions could in the end force a solution. And certainly it will help if Minister Radebe blushes.

However there is someone whose personal courage could unlock this crisis. President Zuma can implement the Public Protector’s report and then step aside to free his party, his family and his country.

This is allowed by his party’s constitution. It would help remove the attention that his personal issues are provoking, so that the country can focus on the real and difficult questions that are holding back its progress.

The price he is paying by listening to those around him who are insisting that he stay on is just too great. He and his family deserve tranquility. We were generous with the Apartheid leaders who perpetrated great crimes against millions of us, and sent Jacob Zuma to jail for ten years. They were allowed to spend their aging years in peace. Why can we not be generous with one of democracy’s leaders who has so sadly slipped from the high standards he once set for himself?

By stepping down he will make the biggest and hardest contribution that a loyal ANC person can be expected to make. He will be remembered and valued not as the one who dragged his organisation down through demanding that they loyally defend the indefensible.

* This article was first published in The Journalist at www.thejournalist.org.za. Publisher: Zubeida Jaffer. Editor: Sylvia Vollenhoven. Write to us at info@thejournalist.org.za

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