Moral Decision

2009-02-19 00:00

Should Jacob Zuma, the president of the African National Congress (ANC), voluntarily stand down as a presidential candidate for this country? He has said that such a step would imply an admission of guilt in relation to the criminal charges against him and that it would constitute a bad precedent. Columnist Allister Sparks expressed the opposite view on this page yesterday, arguing that such an action would set an excellent precedent and be in the best interests of the ANC and the nation.

Such a step need certainly not imply any admission of guilt on Zuma’s part. Instead, it would state in a dignified and responsible manner that it is inappropriate for a political leader to assume high office while criminal charges against him remain unresolved. Without any element of disruption, President Kgalema Motlanthe could continue to fulfil a caretaker role until the court case against Zuma is finally resolved. Should he be found innocent, he would be able to take over the country’s presidency with his head held high and acknowledged as South Africa’s undoubted elected leader. While the charges remain in place, his role as a leader is thoroughly compromised.

Sadly, it is highly unlikely that the ANC will encourage its president to do the right thing and stand aside, even temporarily. With the fall-out over the founding of the Congress of the People (Cope) as a breakaway party and the current revelations of lies and financial dishonesty on the part of its spokesman Carl Niehaus, the ANC will not want any further complications to deal with, especially with Zuma idolised by its rank and file. The onus is therefore on Zuma himself. He should have the courage to make a bold decision to stand down as a presidential candidate in the coming elections. The question is whether he has the personal stature, moral and political, to do so.

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