Mixed signals

2008-09-11 00:00

In same week as his next appearance in the Pietermaritzburg High Court, African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma has affirmed, in an address to students at the University of Johannesburg, his commitment to “a free and independent judiciary that should operate without fear or favour”. This, he said, does not mean that the judiciary is beyond criticism, yet it is “the final arbitrator of disputes”.

From the Young Communist League (YCL) and the ANC’s Youth League (ANCYL) in Gauteng a very different signal is being given. Any “sober judge” will scrap the corruption charges against Zuma and “if the court rules otherwise we will unleash a mass struggle campaign”, said Alex Mashilo of the YCL, while Thabo Kupa of the ANCYL has brought Chief Justice Pius Langa under attack once again for pursuing what is held to be a political agenda because of a recent decision by the Constitutional Court against an appeal by Zuma’s lawyers.

Here are two conflicting paradigms within the ANC and its alliance. While Zuma commends respect for the rule of law, some of his cohorts ratchet up the rhetoric in the opposite direction.

A key problem is that Zuma does not rebuke the firebrands and call them to order. He refuses to acknowledge that the South African judiciary is currently under adverse attack. What he said in Johannesburg was that if such a situation should arise, “we must step back and reflect and be like sportspeople shaking hands after a gruelling duel”. Such generalisations fall on deaf ears when the context is one of vigorous singing of his trademark song Umshini wam (my machine). It is high time that Zuma called for a moratorium on any rendering of that inflammatory song which belonged to the struggle era and is hardly appropriate in the present democratic order. He cannot be a responsible potential head of state and at the same time pursue a dangerous populist role.

Judge Chris Nicholson will give his verdict tomorrow as to whether the current case against Zuma should proceed or be set aside. He will do that in the light of legal, not political, considerations. Whichever way the decision goes, a dignified response rather than a theatrical one is required from all South Africans, not least from Zuma and his supporters.

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