Former president Jacob Zuma. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/THULI DLAMINI
Former president Jacob Zuma. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/THULI DLAMINI

Former president Jacob Zuma always folds at the last minute. This time, his concession might only come after he is arrested for failing to abide by the Constitutional Court order to appear before judge Raymond Zondo’s state capture inquiry; but come it will, especially in view of the tepid support his defiance has attracted.

Zuma’s strategy is not legal but political. Unfortunately for him, his political capital is utterly spent. No-one should be fooled by the dull tea party he held with his former nemesis and one-time protégé, Julius Malema. His support is limited to miscreants within the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association such as its dodgy spokesperson Carl Niehaus. Niehaus’s other hat is as leader of the strange formation called Gauteng Radical Economic Transformation, a support group for a failed faction.

A politically significant statement was made by ANC KwaZulu-Natal chair Sihle Zikalala on Monday: "We must ensure that we engage [Zuma] to understand that the organisation and leaders of the organisation at all material times must embrace the laws of our country, and equally ensure that they subject themselves to the laws of the country."

Another key development was the statement by the ANC national executive committee (NEC) reiterating its support for the Zondo commission and announcing that President Cyril Ramaphosa himself will lead its delegation to answer questions at the inquiry. Even though the NEC is tiptoeing around Zuma, it is no longer out of fear but rather a bizarre deference.

That Ramaphosa would provide evidence was always a given, but the formal decision that he will lead the ANC’s input is a powerful statement and an indirect criticism of Zuma. While branches in eThekwini, the ANC’s largest region, have come out in Zuma’s support, the province as a whole — his former base and stronghold — has been cool in its approach.

The political spark Zuma is attempting to ignite is simply not catching.

Must have been pretty lousy spooks, seeing as he served two terms at the helm of both the ANC and the country

The end result will be that he will concede and appear before Zondo; not that it will matter, he added zero value during his last visit to the commission. The judge indulged him and let him bore the nation with untested tales of a nefarious campaign by local and foreign spies to neutralise him politically. Must have been pretty lousy spooks, seeing as he served two terms at the helm of both the ANC and the country and was long politically invincible despite it being clear that he was rotten to the core.

Back to Zuma’s concessions: there have been a few. The Zondo commission itself was a result of Zuma bending to the inevitable after his Nasrec setback in 2017. He had fought against the idea, but after his anointed candidate Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma lost to Ramaphosa at Nasrec and the conference endorsed the setting up of the commission, Zuma announced its formation.

After the eight-year spy tapes saga, Zuma’s attorneys conceded in the Supreme Court of Appeal that the decision by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to withdraw corruption charges against him in 2009 by the then acting NPA head Mokotedi Mpshe had indeed been irrational.

Then there was the Constitutional Court fight over the powers of the public protector after Thuli Madonsela issued her report on the Nkandla upgrades. Zuma’s lawyers conceded in court that recommendations from the public protector were indeed binding. Zuma also admitted that the ridiculous report by the then police minister Nathi Nhleko, in which he described the Nkandla swimming pool as a "firepool", was in fact meaningless. Defying the Constitutional Court is low, even for Zuma, but he will eventually concede; he always does.

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