Clash of moralities

2009-01-14 00:00

On Monday, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), setting aside the earlier ruling by Judge Chris Nicholson, effectively reinstated the 18 charges of racketeering, corruption, money laundering, tax evasion and fraud against ANC president Jacob Zuma. The five SCA judges unanimously condemned the judgment by Nicholson, whom they accused of making made unfounded allegations and allowing irrelevancies to influence his ruling.

The decision, announced by Supreme Court Judge Louis Harms, is a clear expression of legal morality. The law applies to all, regardless of status, and all, without exception, are equal under it. In keeping with this, while the judicial machinery examines and weighs evidence, each accused person remains innocent. It is not until the evidence of a crime is shown to be conclusive that the innocent accused becomes the guilty criminal, to be convicted and punished accordingly.

Legal morality has a simplicity that political morality lacks. For political morality, while it pays lip-service to the rule of law, is more than willing to discard it when a favoured son such as Zuma seems threatened by it. Many of Zuma’s supporters, blindly devoted to the ANC and to his charismatic person, interpret the accusations against him as political ploys devised by enemies who are intent on hounding him to prison and preventing him from becoming president of the country. This vision is sharpened for them by the imminence of the general election: their hopes for the future of the party and of the country hinge on Zuma. Their perception is that Zuma is being singled out — despite the well-known fact that many in high office were embroiled in the arms deal and should eventually be brought to justice — and so passionately do they identify with him that they believe any damage to him damages the ruling party itself.

And so the division between legal morality and political morality in South Africa widens. On the one hand is the judicial system, clear-cut, inexorable, geared to assess Zuma’s possible culpability and deal with him as the law demands. On the other is the huge complex business of political morality, highly emotional and coloured by history, supported by passionate followers who are happy to brush legal morality aside in order to put their candidate into office.

Too much is at stake for South Africa to allow political morality to prevail. The law must take its course.

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