Former SA President Jacob Zuma appears before the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture in Johannesburg, South Africa, July 16, 2019. Picture: REUTERS
Former SA President Jacob Zuma appears before the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture in Johannesburg, South Africa, July 16, 2019. Picture: REUTERS

Jacob Zuma has spent three days in the hot seat at the state capture inquiry and all we have gotten out of it is an elaborate conspiracy, denials and “I can’t remember”.

Nine witnesses at the state capture have either directly or indirectly implicated the former president. After much persuasion for him to even appear, he made himself available but has provided very few answers. 

From 2018, deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo made public pleas for Zuma to tell his side of the story at the inquiry, as witness after witness told how he effectively handed his powers as president to two brothers from India, facilitating corruption that crippled key institutions. 

At first Zuma refused as he didn’t believe that he had been implicated at all. He has also made it quite clear previously and again at this week’s hearings that he doesn’t believe there is such a thing as state capture, and has questioned the legitimacy of the commission and by implication, justice Zondo’s integrity.

In his opening statement to the commission on Monday, after mapping out what he called an almost 30-year plot by intelligence organisations to get rid of him, Zuma said none of the witnesses at the commission has provided proof that he had done anything wrong. 

He charged that members of his own party, the ANC, were apartheid spies who had been working with these intelligence organisations to discredit him since 1990.

He went as far as to proclaim that Ngoako Ramatlhodi, a man he had appointed to the cabinet, was one of those spies. He also insinuated that Siphiwe Nyanda, a former SA National Defence Force general who served under Zuma in the executive, took instruction from the apartheid police.

For one who claims love for his organisation, the ANC, and the country, it is odd that he has chosen for so long to sit on evidence of wrongdoing when the right thing to do would be to lay criminal charges

He  went on to tell the commission how people tried to poison him, and got it right once, and about a plan to shoot him at an event in KwaZulu-Natal earlier in 2019 . 

The former president is a great storyteller, but we need to ask — just as he does when the finger is pointed at him — where is the proof?

This is not the first time Zuma has claimed to have information of wrongdoing committed by others. Often, when addressing supporters outside court where he is facing graft charges, Zuma has claimed he knows of people who are corrupt and has threatened to out them. 

For one who claims love for his organisation, the ANC, and the country, it is odd that he has chosen for so long to sit on evidence of wrongdoing when the right thing to do would have been to lay criminal charges. That was his duty as a high-ranking member of the government and later the president.

It’s also worth noting that in terms of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act, it is a crime for a person in a position of authority not to report such knowledge or suspicions regarding illegal activities.  

Some of the untested allegations, which his supporters have taken as gospel, point to a larger problem in society in that facts increasingly don’t matter, and the accused are deemed guilty until proven innocent. Even then the whispering doesn’t stop.

Distinguishing between fact and fiction among the wild allegations made at the inquiry seems to be of little importance, as the type of claims that resulted in deaths during the fight for SA’s liberation are echoed as the truth. Facts matter.

More so when smoke-and-mirror dramatics are used to distract and obfuscate from the answers needed to be able to move forward in this increasingly fragile stage in our constitutional democracy.