President Jacob Zuma has denied using his position to influence the awarding of government tenders to members of his family and close allies.
Responding to oral questions in Parliament on Thursday, Zuma defended his son Duduzane Zuma, South African Airways chairperson Dudu Myeni and Public Service and Administration Minister Faith Muthambi from questions about their undue benefit due to their proximity to him.
In his first parliamentary appearance since the motion of no confidence debated earlier this month, Zuma gave short answers which frustrated opposition MP’s who complained about the president’s evasiveness.
Responding to the first question by the DA about whether or not he had meddled in awarding government tenders, Zuma strongly denied abusing his influence to benefit those close him.
“I have never instructed or directed state institutions to give contracts to anyone. Having said that the issues raised by the leader of opposition in his question are similar to the issues that were investigated by the public protector in the report entitled ‘State of Capture’,” he said.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane questioned Zuma’s silence on allegations by public service and administration chief director Bent Simons who, in a sworn affidavit, claimed he had witnessed Zuma use his influence to secure contracts for his son.
Zuma gave a succinct denial to this claim saying: “I’ve answered the question.
I’ve never done such a thing”. He also said while Simon’s claims were not true, he was not prepared to take legal action as he was unwilling to approach the courts over every single false claim made against him.
The president offered a slightly more elaborate response to the Economic Freedom Fighters’s criticism of SAA chair Dudu Myeni and the financial troubles plaguing the national carrier.
“This company has never been on top of the world, it has had problems all the time, long before the people who are working there now. The fact that the portfolio committee for first time got a report of corruption at SAA is because of the people you are talking about who made it possible.
“What has happened is that a decision has been taken to recapitalise SAA and to turn it around. There are also other plans that will be announced. I don’t think you can blame anyone in a company that has had problems for a long time,” he added.
Moments later Zuma resumed with his evasive responses when he told the EFF “I’m not firing Minister Muthambi, I have not taken that decision” after the red berets demanded to know what action would be taken against the minister who was found to have leaked confidential Cabinet information during her time as communications minister.
The short response prompted a barrage of angry questions and insults by EFF MPs who were later kicked out of the chambers for disrupting proceedings as they demanded that the president give clearer responses to questions.
On the economy, Zuma spoke at length about the impact of government’s Operation Phakisa, a programme intended to fast track the fruition of the National Development Plan’s vision 2030. He was however on guard when the DA asked him whether he accepted responsibility for the country’s ratings downgrade and technical recession through the changes he had made to leadership at National Treasury.
“There is a situation in South Africa that is found globally. Many countries because of the economic meltdown are in difficult positions,” he said.
“There are some countries in a difficult economy and no minister was changed.
“Don’t make as if, if a minister is changed then that means you are causing economic problems. They change all time.”
On one of the final question of the session, why Zimbabwean first lady Grace Mugabe was granted political immunity after her alleged assault of a South African woman, the President declined to speak on the matter, saying he was not involved in any decision-making.
“I’m not a lawyer I do not know the points of law, I was not involved in the process. I would be lying if I speculate the facts that were put because I was not there in that department dealing with that matter. I am not going to give you an answer that is not there,” he said.