“Kapow!” Like the comic book hero of yore, “with one bound he was free”. No, not SuperZuma. We’re talking Sidekick Cyril.
For almost nine years, Cyril Ramaphosa was Jacob Zuma’s enabler, turning a conveniently blind eye to the crippling hollowing out of the South African state. Nothing much has changed. The former deputy still has the former president’s back when push comes to shove or, more accurately, when the African National Congress comes to cracking.
Ramaphosa is Zuma’s accomplice in his escape from justice. The granting of a medical pardon to the orange-overalled Zuma without him having to spend a single night in a cell, is not only a triumph for the wily former president. Above all, it’s a testament to the guile of Ramaphosa.
No one, bar Zuma, is happier at how events have played out than is our president. He has, at last, wriggled free the Zuma albatross — which has been crapping on his head for three years and threatening to choke in his throat his reform rhetoric — without the humiliation of having to back down publicly from the politically fraught process of bringing Zuma to justice.
No words were more heartfelt than Ramaphosa in his televised media briefing on Monday: “We welcome this. We have heard he is unwell and we would like to wish him a quick recovery as he is restored back to his home to be with his loved ones.” ___STEADY_PAYWALL___
Unlike the opposition parties and civil society, outraged at the travesty of yet another prominent ANC figure getting a medical parole and deeply suspicious of the process by which the decision was made, Ramaphosa expressed no doubts or reservations. Nor, for that matter, has the Cabinet or the national executive council voiced any disappointment or surprise — a remarkable display of unanimity from party structures that are riven with rivalries and dissent.
Ramaphosa articulated no concern that the decision was taken by Arthur Fraser, a National Commissioner of Correctional Services who is a crony of Zuma. No concern that the decision was taken by a man who exits the top job later this month, fortuitously putting him beyond administrative interrogation or disciplinary rebuke.
No concern that Fraser was Zuma’s appointee to head the State Security Agency and has now saved Zuma from incarceration for the second time. (In 2009 he was implicated in the leaking of the so-called Spy Tapes to Zuma’s legal team, which caused the prosecuting authority to drop charges against Zuma and opened the way to Zuma ousting President Thabo Mbeki.)
No concern that the Zondo Commission heard evidence from former Safety and Security Minister Sydney Mufamadi that Zuma was, during the Fraser years, the beneficiary of millions of rands siphoned from the agency’s special operations unit.
No concern that Fraser admits that he had overruled the recommendation of the medical advisory parole board. While Fraser insists that his actions were all “legal and procedural” and will withstand the scrutiny that is sure to follow, he has handed Zuma the ultimate get-out-of-jail card.
Not only has Zuma’s 15-month sentence for contempt of court been invalidated but his 20-year pending on-again, off-again corruption trial, which was set to resume on Thursday, is probably dead in the water. If Zuma is too ill to serve his sentence in a top-notch private hospital room — costing the taxpayer so far, R398,271.04 for two months — then he is surely too ill to appear in court.
Not concern from Ramaphosa that, despite a person who applies for medical parole having to waive patient confidentiality, still do not know what “life-threatening” condition Zuma suffers from. At the age of 79, even an ingrowing toenail can be potentially fatal. But unless a court intervenes and orders otherwise, the name of the dreaded lurgy that has laid low the previously vital and virile Zuma will remain secret.
An earlier attempt by the court to get to the root of Zuma’s sudden deterioration in health by having him examined by a second doctor has also now been thwarted. Last month, KwaZulu-Natal High Court Judge Piet Koen ordered that the state “may grant a medical practitioner of its choice to examine Mr Zuma to assess his ability to stand trial for corruption and for that doctor to be a witness, if necessary”.
Zuma’s counsel, Advocate Dali Mpofu, initially agreed to the order but then reneged. Zuma, with the assistance of the Military Health Service doctors who had hospitalised him, said they were “very aggrieved” at the insult of being “second-guessed” on their diagnosis. Now, with a medical parole in place, this order becomes moot.
Another happy beneficiary of the parole is French arms manufacturer Thales — as well some ANC bigwigs implicated in that particular set of state looting — which shares the dock with Zuma. Although the action against them can proceed without Zuma’s presence, it affords Thales a happy scapegoat in the form of someone who won’t be there to contradict their evidence but, most importantly, doesn’t need to, since he is immune from ever again having to set foot in court.
The parole is a win-win situation for both Zuma and Ramaphosa. Zuma has been squirming for two decades, trying to avoid conviction, disgrace and a jail sentence. But prospects of the Zuma trial playing out that scenario were a nightmare also for Ramaphosa.
July’s orchestrated political violence following Zuma’s arrest was a warning to Ramaphosa of worse to come, if he did not somehow leash the hounds. If the corruption trial proceeded, Ramaphosa would at some point have faced another insurrection and the same choice as before: save the country through forceful security force intervention and, with blood again on his hands, trigger a bitter breakup of the party; alternatively, blink a second time and trigger disinvestment and economic meltdown on an unprecedented scale.
The solution that has been found is classic Ramaphosa. As it was with the police crackdown at Marikana, Ramaphosa has shifted the execution of his wishes to forces and institutions nominally beyond his control, while calculating that the result will benefit him greatly. As with Marikana, where 34 miners were shot dead and his reputation was grievously wounded, it may backfire.
On the other hand, there’s every likelihood that it won’t. We may well have one of the most trusting, gullible, electorates on the planet.
But while Ramaphosa’s tiresome refrain before the Zondo Commission into state capture — he knew nothing and when, on rare occasions, he did know something, he acted tirelessly behind the scenes to put thing right — may excuse his behaviour while he was the presidential helpmeet to Zuma, it doesn’t wash now. President’s must and do know what’s going down.
Zuma’s sudden acquisition of a magical cloak of immunity was not through rubbing a brass lamp and the actions of a mysterious genie. Fraser’s move could not have happened without Ramaphosa being forewarned and, even if not complicit in its execution, at least acquiescent.
The upshot is that Zuma wins and Ramaphosa escapes to fight another day. But the escape comes at a cost: waning credibility and the sure knowledge that the Zuma faction will be emboldened by their success in getting him to blink. Again.
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