Defiant president undergoes grilling in parliament
President Jacob Zuma avoided answering questions on Pravin Gordhan yesterday, while defending his decision to interdict the release of former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s report on state capture.
Zuma also dismissed reports that he discussed Finance Minister Gordhan’s fraud charge with national director of public prosecutions Shaun Abrahams a day before the minister was charged by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).
“I think it’s important for me to tell the honourable member that as a citizen of this country I have a legal right to exercise my rights and this is what I’ve done in terms of the public protector’s report,” Zuma said.
He made the remarks during a dramafilled sitting of the National Council of Provinces where he was called all sorts of names, from “rapist” to “thief”.
Three EFF MPs had to be removed from the chamber before Zuma could speak, about 30 minutes late.
Zuma was responding to a question from the DA’s Jacques Julius, who had asked about economic stability and the effect of leadership on rating agencies.
“South Africa faces the risk of junk status if the status quo continues and in order to avoid this I would like to know will you be willing to commit to withdrawing your application seeking to interdict the release of the state capture report, because that will certainly help us avert credit junk status?” Julius asked.
On the NPA’s case against Gordhan and the Luthuli House visit by Abrahams, Zuma denied the case was discussed.
He also dismissed calls for him to intervene in the matter.
“Firstly, the matter of the minister, the member should appreciate that it is before court. I don’t think we should be discussing details of that matter when it is in court,” Zuma said.
“I must also say the matter was never discussed with Abrahams – never, never, never. The meeting the honourable member is referring to … was between the president and the security cluster, discussing a totally different matter. Not the matter of any arrest.”
Zuma said he could not intervene in Gordhan’s court case in order to avert a downgrade by rating agencies.
“This country adheres to the constitution and the rule of law. No individual is given a right to interfere with independent processes and decisions of independent institutions,” he said.
“I think if this president was to interfere in any matter, either Chapter 9 institutions or other institutions, then it would be closer to a banana republic.”
On free tertiary education, Zuma said the matter was being addressed.
“The issue of free education is being attended to. I’m sure honourable members know that last year I established a commission, which is working on it and has said it will report at a given time,” he said.
Responding to questions on SAA and Dudu Myeni’s reappointment as chairwoman of the board, Zuma said the decision was taken by the cabinet.
He said the government was also not looking at selling SAA.
“I’m looking at [SAA] getting back to be a company that must be viable and work,” Zuma said.
Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said Zuma’s biggest problem was his inability to gauge the public mood in light of the latest developments and scandals.
He said the reply session came as if nothing had happened in the country over the last couple of weeks.
“I know that he’s got an incredible ability to ignore the public mood around him,” Mathekga said.
“He dismissed people asking these questions as people with an agenda. For him, it doesn’t look as if the conditions have changed.”