A culture of impunity

On Tuesday April 30 2013, at about 7am, Jet Airways charter flight JAI9900, carrying 200 civilian passengers who were to attend a Gupta family wedding at Sun City, landed at Waterkloof Air Force Base, and sparked a national security incident.

A hastily assembled government task team investigated, and exonerated Jacob Zuma and his ministers, and found that the landing was the result of “collusion by officials”.

On May 28 2015, police minister Nkosinathi Nhleko tabled a report in Parliament, exonerating Mr Zuma from any blame or cost liability for the
R260 million “security upgrades” at Nkandla. Instead, a slew of officials who had been involved in the project were fingered, along with Mr Zuma’s personal architect, Minenhle Makhanya, for the massive cost overruns and the deviations from the original plans, supporting Mr Zuma’s statement in Parliament that he had never asked for any of the work to be done.

Mr Nhleko’s report was prepared as the result of a Special Investigation Unit (SIU) report tabled in August 2014 in the National Assembly, which exonerated Mr Zuma, but implicated the same slew of officials as did Mr Nhleko’s report.

The SIU investigation and report was commissioned by Mr Zuma, as he tried desperately to negate then Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s damning Secure in Comfort Report, which placed the blame for Nkandla fairly and squarely on his shoulders.

That the Constitutional Court eventually upheld the Public Protector’s recommendations in that report and found that Mr Zuma had broken his oath of office, is academic, because despite the Court’s very clear statement that the National Assembly had erred in not holding Mr Zuma to account when the two prior reports were tabled, it still refused to do so when voting on the impeachment motion which followed the Court’s ruling.

Mr Zuma was sanitised of any blame by the National Assembly in the Nkandla disgrace, despite the findings of the highest court in the land to the absolute contrary.

If you go back into hansard, and examine the transcripts of what was said by whom during the National Assembly debates on each of these reports, you will repeatedly encounter earnest invocations of “upholding the rule of law” and “upholding our democratic constitution” but what was really happening, was a raised middle finger to the very notion of the rule of law, and the gradual accretion of a culture of impunity.

More recently, the Executive allowed Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir to leave the country after attending an African Union summit in Sandton, despite a North Gauteng High Court ruling that he be detained and handed over to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to face prosecution for crimes against humanity.

That matter is still winding its way through the courts, but it has triggered the next stage in growth of a culture of impunity – withdrawal from the Rome Statute, the founding structure of the ICC.

And it goes back even further, to the time when Schabir Shaik was sentenced to 15 years in jail for having a “generally corrupt relationship” with Mr Zuma, of which he served two years and four months, before being medically paroled because he was diagnosed with life threatening hypertension, yet Mr Shaik still frequents the luxury golf courses in and around Durban, chewing goji berries and smoking very expensive cigars.

But perhaps the greatest contributor to this burgeoning culture of impunity, is the matter of 783 charges against Mr Zuma, which were set aside – irrationally and illegally we now know, because of a recent North Gauteng High Court ruling – by then NPA head Mkothedi Mpshe, way back in 2009. With any luck, once this matter comes before the Constitutional Court – Mr Zuma’s final avenue of appeal – the findings of the North Gauteng High Court will be upheld, a trial date will be set, and he will finally have his long-awaited day in court.

When that comes to pass, as it inevitably will in the fullness of time, the process of disassembling the insidious culture of impunity that our political leaders have so assiduously fostered, may commence.

In the meantime, we must contend with a socio-political milieu of tinderbox proportions, in which those seeking to drive “change” – the SABC board, Dudu Myeni at SAA, and the rabble that is destroying our tertiary education sector – have taken a leaf out of Mr Zuma’s playbook.