Stopping at nothing

2008-08-05 00:00

It will take a long time for South Africa’s democracy, its institutions and constitutional system to recover from the damage already inflicted by, and that still to come from, African National Congress (ANC) President Jacob Zuma’s “Stalingrad” strategy to block his prosecution on corruption charges.

In 2006 Zuma’s advocate Kemp J. Kemp outlined the ANC president’s scorched-Earth political and legal strategy to quash his corruption charges as “we [will] fight them [the corruption charges] in every room and in every street”. At the core of the battle is the aim of exhausting every legal route possible to, as first prize, get the charges thrown out or, as second prize, to ensure that it is continually postponed until after Zuma is elected president of South Africa. The pillar of this strategy is for Zuma not to have his day in court. This means that even if Zuma loses the Pietermaritzburg hearing on August 4 and August 5 he will appeal again. In fact, the delays in court to get the Zuma case over with have much to do with Zuma’s long list of legal appeals to have the case against him thrown out.

Outside the courts, Zuma’s strategy has firstly been to get the ANC, as an organisation, fully behind him. He has achieved that. The ANC national executive committee has now officially thrown its weight behind him. They have made it clear that they want the courts to clear Zuma of all charges, if not to abandon the case against the ANC president. They don’t countenance any other outcome. A core part of Zuma’s strategy has been to argue that there is a political conspiracy against him. Building on this, he has made an argument that the conspiracy is so wide ranging that it includes elements of the judiciary, the media, prosecuting authorities, ANC officials, including President Thabo Mbeki, and opposition parties. This is behind the almost daily attacks on the media, the judiciary and prosecuting authorities by Zuma and his supporters. By attacking and marching against them and portraying them as “counter-revolutionary” or as the “enemy” that must be eliminated, Zuma and his strategists are trying to do three things.

Firstly, to prepare his supporters for a court verdict that goes against him — which would then be rejected as flawed. Secondly, they are trying to intimidate the judiciary, the media and prosecuting authorities into submission. The idea is that if they are sufficiently intimidated, the media won’t report critically on the corruption allegations. Thirdly, the judges will so quake in their boots that they will be hesitant to give a judgment that goes against Zuma.

A case in point is the controversy in which Judge John Hlophe is accused of attempting to influence Constitutional Court judges to rule in favour of Zuma. The judges Hlophe allegedly leaned on, Bess Nkabinde and Chris Jafta, have allegedly indicated that they won’t testify against Hlophe in the upcoming Judicial Services Commission hearings into the controversy.

The Zuma camp’s persistent attacks on the prosecuting authorities, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and its department of special operations (Scorpions), have been intended to intimidate key individuals within the prosecuting authorities dealing with the Zuma case to buckle under the pressure and either to quit, abandon the case or, at least, to fight it unconvincingly in court.

It’s been partly effective because Scorpions head Leon McCarthy quit a few months ago. Zuma’s strategy of building a popular image of the Scorpions as allegedly part of a conspiracy not only against him, but against other ANC leaders accused of corruption, created the conditions for ANC members to vote for its closure at the ANC’s December 2007 conference. Once Zuma became significant in the ANC, because of his allegations that his legal woes are due to a plot involving Mbeki using state institutions again, it was quite easy to rally together those who wanted to get rid of Mbeki and the Scorpions as well.

Zuma has willing troops to help rally the cause in the many ANC politicians under the Scorpions’ radar for corrupt activities. Just the manner in which the Scorpions are being closed down is undemocratic. Parliament, where the decision should be made, is a rubber stamp and participation by citizens through public hearings is a joke.

The Constitutional Court with its independence, integrity and legitimacy is such an important part of our Constitution that Zuma and his strategists’ opportunistic, dishonest and cheap attacks on it, for decidedly personal and factional gain, undermine the very heart of South Africa’s constitutional democracy. New proposed ANC reforms of the judiciary circulated among the ANC leadership, which suggest merging the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal to create a “judicial council” to “assist” the chief justice in dispensing justice, appears very much an attempt to bring the Constitutional Court under political control.

This is particularly ominous because if Zuma manages, by making more legal appeals, to delay his court case, he may be elected president of South Africa next year and will then be able to appoint a more pliable chief justice and be in the position of putting pressure on him or her to quash his corruption charges for one technical reason or another.

Our constitutional system, democratic institutions and values are being torn apart in front of our eyes just to get Zuma, a deeply flawed character, into power by any means, even corrupt ones.

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