Zille does the Zuma Manoova

2008-04-26 00:00

The Heimlich Manoeuvre is a respiratory procedure that ordinary people can use to save lives. The Zuma Manoova is an obfuscate-and-evade procedure that politicians can use to avoid taking responsibility.

The Zuma Manoova was developed by Jacob Zuma, the fired former deputy-president, to neutralise the bench’s capacity to rule on his guilt or innocence. It works by claiming to want no more than your day in court, but then doing everything possible to avoid that happening, especially by discrediting the judiciary with claims of bias.

Given its enthusiastic adoption by Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille to trash a commission of inquiry under Judge Nathan Erasmus, it is perhaps unfair to credit the manoeuvre only to Zuma. If Zille continues so determinedly to refine the procedure, then naming rights should be shared; let’s call it the “Z Manoeuvre”.

The Erasmus Commission was appointed by the Western Cape government to investigate allegations of maladministration by the DA-led coalition governing Cape Town. The terms of reference have been expanded to include alleged bribery to induce councillors to defect from the DA coalition.

The commission is stalled because the DA has obtained successive interdicts challenging its legality. The dispute might go all the way to the Constitutional Court, since the African National Congress smells blood and wants to do whatever damage possible to the DA prior to the 2009 elections, which on current indications the DA will win in the Western Cape.

Rejecting this column’s suggestion that her ad hominem attacks on Erasmus are hypocritical and destructive to the judiciary, Zille this week launched another ferocious broadside, saying that his commission is a “political hit squad to conduct a witch-hunt to smear the opposition”. Not only would she not apologise, but Zille reiterated that Erasmus allowed himself to be “abused” by the ANC and was undermining judicial independence by being a political dupe.

In any case, said Zille, Erasmus is not acting as a judge, merely as the head of a commission. She could say what she liked about the man. Of course, she can, but why would she want to? Since the commission has, because of DA interdicts, barely sat, it is difficult to know what evidence Zille has of Erasmus’s bias and malleability.

Erasmus apparently has ANC connections. So what? Should he have had DA connections that would not justify an ANC campaign against his credibility. Nor do the ties that Judge Hilary Squires once had with the old Rhodesian Front excuse the calumny heaped upon him by the ANC Youth League.

The DA argues that the Western Cape government has no standing to appoint a commission into city matters and that there is no evidence of serious malpractice, nor that the city is hiding anything. It cites the failure of the police investigation to result in charges and the exculpation of the DA by, umm, its own commission.

There is such a thing as winning the battle and losing the war. Until now, Zille has hardly put a foot wrong and has enjoyed considerable media and public support in her herculean task of cleaning the ANC’s Augean stables. This support is eroding in response to her intransigent, aggressive attitude towards Erasmus.

It will not escape voter attention that her governing coalition’s most important partner, Patricia de Lille’s Independent Democrats, favours the commission. They have nothing to hide, they proclaim smugly. By implication, the DA does. Zille is right when she identifies a “coalition of the aggrieved” that wants to sink her administration. Her best defence is a transparent and credible inquiry, preferably with expanded terms of reference to probe also ANC skandaal. Unless she truly needs to use the Zuma Monoova.

• The legal basis of the DA’s rejection of the Erasmus Commission can be found at www.

legalbrief.co.za

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