Is it an ambush by scandal on the road to Mangaung or a wise capitulation in the face of a near-certain court defeat?
Those alternatives broadly sum up the reaction to President Jacob Zuma's decision to release the report of the Donen Commission, which investigated South African involvement in the payment of kickbacks to Saddam Hussein's regime in return for oil allocations.
The Cape Argus newspaper has been pursuing a bid for access to the report in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA).
If you were reading your Mail & Guardian in 2004, you will recall that two important threats to Zuma's pre-eminence, Kgalema Motlanthe and Tokyo Sexwale, were deeply implicated in the "oil-for-food" scandal. Both men will see their reputations hurt by the publication of the report. That, of course, is no reason to keep it secret and we welcome its publication, which we believe will further confirm many of the details of our reporting seven years ago.
Judy Sexwale wife of ANC stalwart Tokyo Sexwale. Judy was a paralegal when she met and married Tokyo when he was incarcerated on Robben Island.
But the suggestion that Zuma is releasing the report because of a sudden commitment to open government, or to pre-empt a pointless court battle, won't wash. Certainly the experience of the M&G suggests that when it comes to PAIA, Zuma is more than happy to risk defeat.
We have been fighting for three years to obtain a report by judges Dikgang Moseneke and Sisi Khampepe on the constitutional environment in which Zimbabwe's rigged 2002 elections took place. We won in the high court and we won again, resoundingly, in the Supreme Court of Appeal. That didn't stop Zuma from taking the case to the Constitutional Court, which is currently deliberating on its judgment.
South Africans have been through nearly a decade of succession wars conducted under the cover of legal battles and leaks and we are now incapable of remaining credulous in the face of these contradictions. After all, as we learned in early 2009, it is possible for two contending narratives to be true at the same time.
The National Prosecuting Authority did have compelling evidence of fraud and corruption against Zuma, as the Thabo Mbeki camp insisted, but the case against him was also subject to political influence, as his supporters kept complaining.
Similarly, there is plenty of reason to believe Motlanthe and Sexwale were up to their necks in dodgy crude just before the US-led invasion of Iraq and that the legal process is a politically convenient pretext for Zuma. Certainly, as our reporting this week shows, the two men in question are convinced the decision is motivated by succession considerations and they are hopping mad.
It was against this backdrop that Mac Maharaj, the president's emissary to the media, sent out a Press Freedom Day message complaining that it was terribly unfair to castigate Zuma for indecisiveness on Sicelo Shiceka, Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabine and Bheki Cele and then turn on a dime to attack his political motives when he acts boldly, as he has on Oilgate.
In fact, Zuma isn't so much indecisive as unwilling to be drawn into battles that may not profit him. So Mac, we're pleased that the report will be made public, but don't expect us to turn a blind eye to your boss's motives.
No room for racism
When Mbongeni Ngema claimed in the hit song AmaNdiya that Indians were responsible for the oppression and marginalisation of Africans in KwaZulu-Natal he was called to order by then-president Nelson Mandela, who demanded, and got, an apology, albeit rather mealy-mouthed.
Madiba's objective was not to ignore the complex history of both solidarity and tension between oppressed communities in the province, but to put beyond the social and political pale the racism that Ngema so clearly evinced.
That was in 2002. Just eight years later, under a president who counts among his closest advisers and most senior ministers Indian struggle veterans like Mac Mahraj and Pravin Gordhan, such talk has become grotesquely respectable. How else could Jimmy Manyi, a senior civil servant, complain as he did in 2010, that Indians were disproportionately represented in management because of their talent for bargaining? He claims he was joking, but that is no defence. That is how the social space for hatred is opened up.
And it is how it comes to pass that we see the Judicial Service Commission considering a bizarre letter from the Pietermaritzburg branch of the Black Lawyer's Association attacking the suitability of KwaZulu-Natal deputy judge president Chiman Patel for promotion to judge president. Their grounds? He is Indian and would therefore favour other Indians when asked to appoint acting judges. The letter found a more nuanced echo in answers from another candidate for the post, Judge Mjabuliseni Madondo, who referred to "all kinds of things which need more insight which a person who is not African cannot be privy to … We were oppressed, but not in the same way."
And finally there is Julius Malema, speaking in Thembelihle, where service-delivery protests have been lent a sharper edge by perceptions that Indian residents of nearby Lenasia are treated better by the government. When Malema spoke of amaKula, or "coolies", he closed the circle with Ngema and set up a resonance that the worthies of the JSC ought to find deeply uncomfortable. There is no space on the commanding heights of our society for racism, whether cloaked in lawyers robes, or in naked, demagogic display.
If Zuma wants praise for his decisiveness, he should make that clear.