Despite being prone to regular attacks of the giggles, President-by-Omission Jacob Zuma is an astute guy. In fact, the giggles are all part of the show. The appointment of Mac Maharaj as his spokesperson shows he’s still on top of his game.
The media speculate that this move is all about former presidential spokesperson Zizi Kodwa’s ties to the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) and Zuma firing him shows how things have cooled off between Zuma and the ANCYL.
Zizi who? Maybe if you’re talking to this guy on a day-to-day basis, you’d think he’s big shakes. But an argument could be made that it would make more sense for Zuma to keep Zizi close to serve as a kind of early warning signal as to the latest shift in ANCYL leader Julius Malema’s cat-and-mouse game with our ruling Zulu patriarch.
That’s now if you’re a journalist who is hell-bent on remaining mesmerised by Malema’s (media) games.
The question should rather be: why roll Big Mac out in the twilight of his life? It’s true that the 76-year-old has not retired – he was apparently still engaged in the backrooms of the presidency, which sounds suited for a septuagenarian giving the nest egg a final injection.
Now he’s in the hot seat as none other than Presidential Spokesperson. It’s such an obvious spin move that only those held in thrall to the Youth League would miss it.
Some of today’s editors were the journalists who covered the transition to democracy two decades ago. I have not met one who does not speak glowingly of Mac, who was always ready with a plum soundbite or background info to funk up a story during those years.
He’s no-nonsense, he’s got gravitas, he’s familiar. His appointment puts a new shine on the Presidency.
And that Old Mac Touch is already working. For example, as our constitutional crisis takes another turn, this time via the Public Protector’s office, a recent headline trumpeted “Protect Thuli, Says Zuma”. The news report declared that, “Maharaj also hinted that Zuma believed the police should protect [Thuli] Madonsela so that she could continue investigating corruption.”
Yeah right. When you read the actual statement, issued by Maharaj, half of it is a mere repeat of what the Constitution says in Section 181 about support to Chapter Nine institutions. The statement does not specifically commit the presidency to the protection of the Public Protector.
We all know what the Constitution says. But what is the president’s position on certain individuals, organisations and institutions actively working to undermine those very principles?
South Africa at this point does need an openly stated commitment from the president that the independence of the Public Protector will be respected. Maharaj’s statement that, “President Jacob Zuma has reaffirmed government support for the Office of the Public Protector and all Chapter 9 institutions” goes some way towards this.
But real support for the Public Protector means a swift response to and implementation of the remedial action that she suggested with regards her findings of unlawful conduct and maladministration in the leasing of buildings for the police.
Instead of Big Mac supplying the answers in this regard, we have hatchet man Jimmy Manyi, sometime businessman, sometime government spokesperson, saying that the Public Protector’s decision to go, well, public with her findings has placed “undue” pressure on the executive and “prejudiced” “innocent” people.
But, he assures us, cabinet “respects” the Chapter 9 institutions and “due processes” will be followed. How his pronouncement of the implicated persons as “innocent” fits into such “due processes” he does not say.
Spot the difference: Maharaj says the Public Protector enjoys the support of government and (allegedly) “hints” at protection. Manyi says the executive respects “all Chapter 9 institutions” but the Public Protector has “prejudiced” “innocent” people.
Sounds like government spin doctors trying out a “good cop, bad cop” spiel. But when you break it down, the message remains the same.