Three weeks after the Gupta wedding plane incident embarrassed the nation and led to questions being asked about his leadership, President Jacob Zuma finally broke his silence on the scandal on Thursday.
He accused opposition parties of grandstanding and condemned those who “abused” his name to secure privileges, but he stayed clear of mentioning the Guptas by name.
Zuma used his address to the National House of Traditional Leaders to attack opposition parties’ conduct in the wake of the plane-landing debacle.
Accusing opposition MPs of distorting facts and politicking at the expense of national interests, he suggested the quality of their debates was far lower than that of traditional leaders.
Zuma did not attend Wednesday’s parliamentary debate at which opposition MPs blamed him for the landing of the aircraft.
In a veiled criticism of the Gupta family – with whom he is closely associated – Zuma slammed name-droppers who used his name to “secure privileges or flout government procedures”.
He did not mention the Guptas by name.
The rich family not only enjoy closer ties with Zuma, but also employ or are business partners with members of his family, including his son Duduzane.
The Gupta plane report, released this week, exonerated the executive and blamed “name-droppers” who apparently used Zuma’s name to secure the landing of a civilian plane at a national key point.
Earlier, Zuma’s office condemned the practice of using his name and those of cabinet ministers “to secure privileges or flout government procedures”.
It repeated that Zuma neither spoke to nor authorised any government official to process and approve the use of Waterkloof.
“It is unfortunate that some officials and members of the public would resort to that practice of using and abusing the names of members of cabinet in this manner to further their own ends, as alleged. We call for vigilance and urge all our officials who are entrusted with managing state institutions not to succumb to pressure from name-droppers,” said Zuma.
This came a day after opposition parties condemned the government over the scandal and accused affected ministers of using officials as scapegoats. They called for the ministers’ resignations, adding that they had made a mockery of the concept of accountability.
But it was Zuma at whom opposition MPs also took aim.
They claimed that he had created conditions for name-droppers to thrive because of his “close proximity” to the Guptas.
While Zuma’s office was defending him outside Parliament, he digressed slightly from his prepared speech and took up the matter inside the house.
Taking a swipe at opposition MPs, Zuma praised the level of debates by traditional leaders, saying they were “free from party political grandstanding” and were “instead characterised by mutual respect”.
Without referring directly to the Gupta debate, Zuma said MPs often howled and distorted facts rather than raise important issues.
He added that this was “un-African”.
“Again this (house of traditional leaders) is as it should be from the unifiers of communities and custodians of African culture and I hope both the national Parliament, the NCOP, the legislatures in the provinces can learn from the traditional leaders,” said Zuma.
He called on traditional leaders to teach MPs a thing or two about quality debates.
“It’s a lesson I believe we need all to learn from that we cannot promote politics above the nation and our people and think that politically, an opposition kind of politics is helpful. In fact, at some degree it distorts the very essence of democracy.
“So that’s why I say that those who are here who come from other houses must take some notes that you can debate and make your point understood without shouting, without exaggerating, without really feeding the nation the kind of debate that you end up (not) understanding what you are talking about,” said Zuma.
* ANC national executive committee member Pallo Jordan broke ranks with his colleagues in the ruling party, saying in a daily newspaper on Thursday that the Gupta scandal was a serious blow to Zuma’s credibility
“No one is questioning the president’s right to choose his friends. In that respect, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe is correct. President Jacob Zuma, like the rest of us, has the untrammelled right to choose his own friends.
“But, just as mention of a name can suggest approval, another name might invite disapprobation. A private citizen’s associates might be of no significance beyond the individual and his family, but those of a head of state are of great relevance to the nation”.