By: Clyde Ramalaine
Since the start of the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture on August 20, 2018, it solicited people to come forward to share their stories as it relates to its investigation of how and if the state was captured.
Given the media-led campaign aimed at conditioning South Africa on the prevalence of state capture, a much-awaited moment of former President Jacob Zuma’s attendance in showing up before the State of Capture Commission was always anticipated.
With a month shy from celebrating its one-year anniversary, there is little doubt that Zuma’s presence at the Commission marks the apex of witnesses before the commission. It is so because it can be argued that he is for some the kingpin since he is the face of the executive that stands accused of having enabled state capture. The Commission while signed off by him, was never his initiative and he is placed at the center of an allegation of a state that is captured as the Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s October 2016 “The State of Capture” report leads. Zuma thus in an orchestrated sense becomes the epicenter for a claim of state capture, the aorta at least for those who believe it existed. For some, he is finally in the dog-box, called to account for his role in State Capture fraud and corruption activities.
The State Capture Commission, hitherto, has entertained a litany of accounts. Versions that detail personal stories made up of facts, innuendos, allegations, speculations and also utter fabrications. Some of these were already refuted before this very Commission. I have elsewhere asserted the Zondo commission could easily be defined as a ”Latent Labour Dispute Commission” since many who appeared detailed job or position loss allegedly at the hand of a president. Nevertheless, these are their respective stories and we warrant hearing them all.
Sharing one’s story is not a straight line, it includes one’s vantage point, one’s interpretation necessarily understood in subjectivity. It comes coloured with our shades. These stories are not exempted from emotion and even pain, we saw this with those who appeared before the Commission, Vytjie Mentor, Mcebisi Jonas, Themba Maseko, Pravin Gordhan, Barbara Hogan, Pumla Williams, Agrizzi among others. These, all shared their versions of how they either lost a job, were ill-treated or had people plotting against them.
On Monday, July 15, the Commission began hearing Jacob Zuma’s account it would be the first of five days set aside to hear his version. Unlike those who came before the commission who came to tell their stories, Zuma is here not in the equal sense of how other ministers appeared. He appears really as accused number one, at least in the eyes of those who believe the case of state capture was long made. All those who hitherto have appeared before the Zondo Commission were led by the Commission’s evidence leaders to prepare for the engaging. That leading takes the method and form of prepared statements predicated on their compiled statements as aided by the Commission. Meaning the Commission invested resources (time and effort) to assist those who appeared before it to prepare their statements.
All those who appeared in apparent aid to the case fo state capture had prepared statements. Yet, it appears that privilege or right was not extended to President Zuma. Is it possible that the Commission does not see Zuma as one to assist them instead he is accused whom they can to place at the proverbial crime scene? The question that may arise is what then was the Commission’s motive when it in process sense treated Zuma differently by not obtaining his statement?
Zuma’s introduction details almost 30 years. He linked the proverbial dots of plans to have him removed, even attempts on his life as plotted by a group of people whom he claims work in cahoots with the intelligence structures of two external agencies. He shows this as a consistent aim which ultimately harvested his removal and yet continues. He anchors this in a history of his role as intelligence head of the ANC, where information was made available to him.
As part of his narrative, he informed the Commission that Ngoako Ramatlhlodi who was a witness at the Commission and accused him of having auctioned off SA was recruited by the apartheid state intelligence while he was a student in Lesotho. Later he also included Siphiwe Nyanda as compromised. These revelations sent the social media discourses into an overdrive. While still delivering his introduction, many commented that this was a deliberate deflection. It appears they wanted him to come and just confirm what they already believe of him in guilty conviction.
Their intolerance to afford him to tell his story is the opposite of how they responded to others who also appeared. Their intolerance confirms their claim to know his story better than him. He is not afforded the same confidence all others who appeared before the commission were extended. There is this dialectic tension of demanding him to speak at the Commission but only from a directed script that attests concession to guilt, anything else is seen as a deflection. In truth they want him to relate the stories they already have heard. Naturally, the commission straddles political and legal spheres and he as a clever politician knows how to engage in that political space.
If Zuma must speak can those who want to hear him, let him speak and can we desist demanding him telling us what we want to hear. After all, it is his story. The week ahead promises more volatile moments however let us hear Zuma’s story.