Off the hook

2009-04-07 00:00

ANC president Jacob Zuma is off the hook following the announcement yesterday by acting head of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) Moketedi Mpshe that he is to drop the prosecution against him. Mpshe’s reason was that the case was irretrievably flawed following the submission by Zuma’s defence to the NPA of telephone recordings made by the National Intelligence Authority (NIA) of conversations between former head of the Scorpions Leonard McCarthy and former NPA head Bulelani Ngcuka.

What are the implications for the NPA? It is hard to escape the conclusion that it capitulated following sustained political pressure not to charge the man likely to be president of South Africa by the end of the month. Was the process as fatally flawed as Mpshe suggested in announcing his decision? Was McCarthy being made a scapegoat? Will the NPA’s future standing and role in judicial affairs be irrevocably compromised? Time alone will tell.

What are the implications for Zuma? While he is off the hook, his victory, it would seem, is a Pyrrhic one. The NPA’s decision not to charge him (to say nothing of his own tortuous legal manoeuvres to avoid being charged) have together ensured that he will never have his day in court and the opportunity to clear his name and reputation. His friend and financial adviser Schabir Shaik was sent to jail with the judgment that he had “an inherently corrupt relationship” with Zuma. There are 93 000 documents to support the state’s contention that between October 15, 1995, and June 1, 2005, Zuma received 783 payments totalling R4 072 499 from Shaik. A poll indicates that a majority of South Africans of all races, including a majority of ANC members, do not think that he is innocent. He will now never be able to prove the charges false and will remain forever tainted.

What are the implications for South Africa? Clearly the country is no longer on the high road along which it began to walk in 1994. While Mpshe’s assurance that the NPA has no evidence of improper interference by ex-president Thabo Mbeki in the charging of Zuma has at least avoided that possible sordid complication, the making of a scapegoat of McCarthy looks like an attempt to justify the demolition of the Scorpions — with all the joyful implications for criminals that that holds. And the outcome looks rather as though there are going to be two standards of justice in future: a more elastic one for the politically well-connected and a less elastic one for the rest of us.

Perhaps it was always too much to hope that South Africa could have remained exclusively on the 1994 moral high gound. Perhaps a scenario in which the president is sent to prison for fraud and corruption is more than our fragile democracy could have sustained. Probably the best that we can hope for is that Zuma has been suitably chastened and that under his watch we might be able to claw our way back towards higher ground.

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