Holding the centre

2008-09-16 00:00

THE judgment of Justice Chris Nicholson last Friday in throwing out the case which the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) had brought against Jacob Zuma on a legal technicality, could have far-reaching consequences. One consequence which it will not have, however, is to clear Zuma. The judge made it quite clear that he made no finding whatever on the guilt or innocence of the man in the dock. Whether, after what are now two failed attempts, the NPA will have the stomach to charge Zuma a third time, remains to be seen.

The judgment certainly gave no comfort to the Thabo Mbeki camp. Nicholson pointed a damning figure at Mbeki and former justice minister Penuel Maduna for executive interference in the NPA and implied that there was political interference in the decision to prosecute the ANC president so soon after his Polokwane triumph in December last year. Whether there was political interference in Bulelani Ngcuka’s decision not to prosecute him along with Schabir Shaik is unknown. It is clear, however, that failure to do so at that early junction was the beginning of the NPA’s troubles. Certainly it was a very lucky escape for Zuma.

Over the weekend the Zuma faction of the ANC was swimming in a triumphalist tide, with heady talk of Zuma being president by Christmas. Whether or not Mbeki will be axed, and if so, how, is evidently a topic now exercising the minds of ANC leaders. In fact, the Mbeki administration, like that of George W. Bush in the United States, has been a lame duck government ever since Polokwane. In Zuma’s colourful phrase, Mbeki is a “dead snake”. Secretive, Machiavellian, authoritarian administration has received its democratic come-uppance. Nicholson’s judgment should be a salutary lesson to Mbeki and future presidents.

But this is not the moment for Zumerist triumphalism. Zuma is not the vindicated, innocent victim of largely malicious allegations. He has not had his day in court where evidence against him can be presented, tried and tested. In these circumstances, as ANC president, he should be playing the statesmanship role, stabilising his party and the country and controlling the hotheads who have hitched themselves to his bandwagon. Above all, he should be seeking the commission of inquiry which, in Nicholson’s words, is the only way “to rid our land of this cancer which is devouring the body politic”.

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