Nobody has the power to order him to institute an inquiry into state capture, President Jacob Zuma told Parliament on Wednesday, removing the last doubt that investigations into such allegations have now ground to a halt.
“No one, no matter what position they hold, can instruct the president to establish a commission,” Zuma said during a scheduled question-and-answer session in the National Assembly.
Former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s report on state capture—which ordered Zuma to establish just such a commission—had been “dealt with in a very funny way”, Zuma said, with “no fairness at all”.
In terms of the remedial action Madonsela ordered, Zuma has until mid-December to establish a commission to investigate the strange, and seemingly very lucrative, relationship between the state and the Gupta family. Earlier this year, the Constitutional Court found that such orders from the public protector are binding.
Zuma did not say outright that he would go to court to overturn that order, as various other affected parties have promised to do, but made it clear that a challenge was in the works.
Madonsela’s successor, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, has said her office will not continue with a previously envisaged second phase of the investigation into state capture because Madonsela had shifted that responsibility to the commission of inquiry Zuma was due to establish.
The police’s elite Hawks unit has confirmed it will investigate criminal allegations raised relating to the Gupta family, but also warned its work will take a considerable amount of time.
The Guptas have previously vowed to sell off all their South African assets in the near future, raising the possibility that the conclusion of a Hawks investigation would be academic by the time it arrives.
Other investigations into individual aspects of the broader allegations of state capture, such as those by treasury, lack the considerable powers of search and seizure available to the public protector and police.
Zuma on Wednesday also denied that he had lied to Parliament when he said he had not had the opportunity to answer questions on the State of Capture report.
“I interdicted it because she was going to issue a report having not talked to me or asked me questions,” Zuma told the National Council of Provinces in late October, in what DA leader Mmusi Maimane on Wednesday said amounted to “deliberately” and “wilfully” misleading that house, considering the four-hour meeting between Zuma and Madonsela while she was investigating the matter.
The misunderstanding was on the part of those who had not listened properly, Zuma told Maimane.
Because Madonsela had not put questions to him in writing before putting questions to him in person, Zuma said, he refused to answer the questions.
“She said ‘answer the questions’, I said ‘no’,” Zuma recounted.
Although Zuma explained that questions from different people require different responses, he did not explain how refusing to answer questions made it truthful to say that there had been no questions.
But saying there had been neither conversation nor questions when there had, in fact, been both, was not a deception, he held.
“I did not mislead anyone,” Zuma said emphatically.