Questions about Zuma, Motlanthe

2009-02-12 00:00

As the country gets ready for the next general election, and as the various political parties issue their manifestos and begin to jostle for position, the two major figures in the African National Congress have been in the news. And both of them — Jacob Zuma, the president of the ANC, and Kgalema Motlanthe, the president of the country — seem to pose questions.

Zuma has once again been charged with corruption, and has expressed his determination to have the charges quashed. In this he may or may not succeed. The question that many have asked is an obvious one: as he has these charges hanging over him, would it not be appropriate for him to withdraw as a candidate for the presidency of the country? The answer that he and the ANC are giving is that for him to withdraw would be tantamount to an admission of guilt, and that that would be unfair not only to Zuma, who insists on his innocence, but to the whole country, which needs a justice system which produces correct findings. Blade

Nzimande has pushed this argument one step further, and said that asking Zuma to withdraw his candidacy would be to allow malicious people to triumph and thus to turn the country into a banana republic.

One has to sympathise with some of the criticisms aimed at the prosecution. There have been many strange elements in this case. For all the ferocity of Judge Louis Harms’s oddly personal attack on Judge Chris Nicholson, the latter’s expressions of unhappiness about the way the case had been handled rang true for many discerning people. So one can understand very well both Zuma’s and the ANC’s desire to make sure that justice is done, that Zuma is not allowed once again to be condemned by default.

But what is puzzling is that Zuma and the ANC seem not to have considered an alternative procedure, which would involve Zuma’s stepping down, in view of the burden that the charges against him place upon the ANC’s electoral chances, while at the same time restating his innocence and announcing that he will confidently stand trial if necessary. This would mean that no admission of guilt would be made and the justice system could go ahead unimpeded. Something similar was done in May last year by the Irish prime minister, Bertie Ahern: faced with corruption charges, he proclaimed his innocence but resigned, so that his party and his country would not be in-volved in his personal struggle for justice.

The question that could be said to hover round President Kgalema Motlanthe is one that arises from his State of the Nation address last Friday.

In a sober, factual analysis he gave what seemed a pretty accurate account of the situation in which we find ourselves. He went through the achievements of the country since 1994, particularly the improvements in the provision of basic services and the stabilising of the economy. This involved, perhaps ironically, an acknowledgment of the valuable work done by his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki. But he also stressed the continuing problems that we all face: poverty, unemployment, corruption and crime. He also emphasised the economic difficulties presented now, and likely to be presented even more strongly in the coming months, by the global recession.

But he summed up his perceptions by saying that, in spite of all the challenges, the country is “in a good state”.

We have to ask: is it in a good state?

Some of the opposition parties accused Motlanthe of electioneering. At first sight this might seem a strange accusation, since he said very little about the election, but the point that was being made was that to picture the country as being “in a good state” shortly before an election clearly suggests that the governing party has been doing a fairly good job.

Opposition parties, on the other hand — like all opposition parties as elections approach — picture the country as being in a chaotic state, in need of a drastic overhaul. In this assessment of the situation, it must be said, the opposition has received a good deal of support from the media. Why have the media favoured an agonised or alarmist approach to the issue? One can’t easily generalise, and of course different media have adopted somewhat different points of view, but it seems safe to say that three underlying motives have been apparent: a genuine belief that our current problems are alarming; a sense that things need shaking up and therefore support for an oppositional point of view is creative; and a general desire to keep things newsworthy.

What is the truth of the matter? In issues of current political judgment there is often no such thing as “the truth”. It is mainly a matter of perception and one’s perceptions are likely to be influenced to some degree by one’s political allegiances.

So what is my own view? I must say that I am disturbed by many recent events — by startling instances of corruption, by denunciations of the courts by some ANC activists, by the ruling party’s insensitivity in various matters and by the whole Zuma issue. But then, shortly after listening to Motlanthe’s address to Parliament, I flicked through the TV stations and came across the following: an account of the appalling situation in Zimbabwe, a reminder of the repressive conditions inside the Libya of Muammar Gaddaffi, who has disturbingly just been made the head of the African Union, and a programme on Russia, where in the last nine years 20 journalists critical of the government have been assassinated, almost certainly by government hitmen. And I thought that maybe at the moment we are indeed “in a good state”.

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