Unfolding drama

2008-07-24 00:00

The provincial executive committee of the African National Congress (ANC) has decided to hold night vigils in the vicinity of the Pietermaritzburg High Court during the two nights preceding the trial of ANC president Jacob Zuma. The party envisages the attendance of large crowds and sees these vigils as part of its campaign to have the case against Zuma withdrawn completely.

The question that arises is whether this kind of action should be understood as intimidation of the judiciary or as a legitimate expression of political interest. Much will depend on the nature of the vigils and on the continuing public presence outside the court during the trial. If these are dignified and respectful of legal process, they will be an acceptable feature of a democratic state. If not, they will constitute a major threat to the rule of law on which that democracy fundamentally depends.

After a long wait, the trial is now less than two weeks away. Yet it will still not be the major trial on the charges of fraud and corruption, for this two-day trial — on August 4 and 5 — is to enable argument to be led as to whether the decision to prosecute Zuma should be declared unlawful. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) represents the view that, on the basis of evidence it has compiled, there is a strong case against Zuma. From its point of view, the judiciary would be compromised if this case is not followed through. The defence, on the other hand, takes the view that the proposed trial is the product of a contrived political conspiracy against their client and is not based on hard evidence.

This will be a watershed case for Zuma and for the country at large, for he is the designated successor to Thabo Mbeki as president in 2009. Nelson Mandela, now 90 years old, cannot continue as the nation’s moral beacon for much longer. The city of Pietermaritzburg will be at the centre of an unfolding drama. What happens inside the courtroom and what occurs outside it will both carry a profound significance for this nation and its future.

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