Collateral damage

2008-09-24 00:00

President Thabo Mbeki’s dignified farewell speech at the weekend seemed to suggest that his departure tomorrow would be a quiet and discreet slipping away. Not so. With an urgent appeal to the Constitutional Court, he has apparently begun a new round in the fight against the Zuma camp in the ANC by asking that “remarks made in passing” by Judge Chris Nicholson in his ruling in the KwaZulu-Natal High Court earlier this month be set aside. Nicholson, it will be recalled, had ruled that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) had not given Zuma the opportunity to make representations before deciding to charge him again for fraud and corruption. Dealing with a secondary matter, he found that the Minister of Justice, with the probable knowledge of the president, had meddled in the NPA’s decision to prosecute.

It has been contended that it was unwise or wrong of him to have dealt with this aspect, using words likely to inflame public, and especially party-political, feeling: several senior jurists have expressed their dismay at what they describe as “irrelevant” and “unfair” and believe he should have been more circumspect. Whatever the basis for Nicholson’s finding, the fact remains that it has had serious repercussions, becoming the final nail in the coffin of the Mbeki presidency.

In view of this it’s possible to have some sympathy for Mbeki, and with his attempts to salvage legally something of the dignity and pride he believes to have been damaged by Nicholson, and to have the opportunity — denied to him at the time — to speak for himself. Even so, and even if the Constitutional Court rules in his favour, he should not delude himself that he can make a presidential comeback.

Even those many South Africans who do not detest him, as do Zuma supporters in the ANC‚ acknowledge that his leadership was sadly flawed, that he was often inflexible, overweening and arbitrary in his decisions, and often remote and out of touch with the needs of ordinary people.

Mbeki is yesterday’s man and there is no comeback trail for him. South Africa is already moving on, and so should he.

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