EDITORIAL: How about that day in court?

2017-10-15 06:19
President Jacob Zuma

President Jacob Zuma

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In his introduction to the latest leg of the legal battle being waged between President Jacob Zuma and the DA regarding the reinstatement of the 783 charges against him, Judge Mahomed Navsa, quoting literary and social critic TS Eliot, called it “the recurrent end of the unending”.

No truer words have ever been spoken.

It is clear that Zuma, who once famously called for his day in court, is not prepared for that day to come anytime soon. In fact, I can almost feel a huge sigh of desperation from Judge Navsa as he was writing up his judgment.

At some point, he writes that “the litigation between the national director of public prosecutions (NDPP) and Mr Zuma has a long and troubled history, and the law reports are replete with judgments dealing with the matter. It is, accordingly, unnecessary to say much by way of introduction and a brief summary will suffice.”

He goes on to concede that he doubts that a decision in this case will be the end of the continuing contestations concerning the prosecution of Zuma.

Judge Navsa was hardly finished with the judgment on Friday morning when a statement dropped from the presidency, announcing that it was preparing to make fresh representations to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

It is millions upon millions of rands later, and we are yet to see the end. To an observer, it looks as if the president wants to drag the matter on endlessly. But this cannot possibly make sense, can it? The long arm of the law may be patient and enduring, but it does reach finality.

Or maybe, despite deep scepticism, the president’s case does have merit. He genuinely believes there is no case against him.

Because if I do my calculations, this is what I conclude: If the president is merely kicking for touch, we have already wasted eight years on the same issue without result.

So, if Zuma is planning to repeat the exact same strategy, it might take, at best, half of the eight years before the toing and froing between the different courts – spurred by the raising of, by turns, substantial and technical issues – reaches some form of resolution.

Zuma has less than two years left in office. Clearly, by the time this legal matter is resolved, he will have been out of office for a while.

I imagine that he would still be able to rely on government funds for his case, as he does currently. But outside of office, Zuma would have lost all the influence he currently wields.

The current appeasement strategy being pursued by elements of the NPA is not something he would be able to call on at a future time, irrespective of who the president will be.

He will be vulnerable in a way that he currently does not anticipate.

Bite the bullet

I hold an image in my mind from a few years back of a frail and meek Jackie Selebi, standing in the dock long after he was relieved of his post as national police commissioner. Selebi still had loyal friends, but what he did not have was political power. He was subsequently convicted of corruption and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

A pitiful Selebi was admonished: “Mr Selebi, you were an embarrassment to the office you occupied ... You must be an embarrassment to those who appointed you.

“You must have been an embarrassment to all right-thinking citizens of this country. They deserve more than what they got ... There can be no doubt that all the people of South Africa would join in rejecting a national commissioner found to be an untruthful witness.”

So, if I were President Zuma, I would cut my losses and get on with the case right now.

I do not say this because I know he is guilty. It is because most of the courts that he has knocked on over the past few years agree that he has a case to answer. He might as well bite the bullet.

But the statement released by his office suggests that he is still relying on technicalities to make his next move. The statement relies on a narrow reading of the judgment, saying the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that the then acting NDPP had invoked the incorrect provisions in considering Zuma’s representations. Zuma is thus entitled to make fresh representations.

The statement is silent on the fact that the court dismantled the whole political conspiracy which the president believed underpinned the case against him. He is now seemingly intent on questioning the credibility of the KPMG report, which informed the prosecution’s case against him.

However, I am not sure if KPMG’s recent dodgy behaviour with the Guptas invalidates all the work the audit firm has done over the years.

Zuma would have to make the case and punch holes in that particular KPMG report.

But even if his lawyers were to successfully attack the integrity of KPMG’s auditors, they must still reckon with the words of Judge Louis Harms in yet another Zuma case: “A bad motive does not destroy a good case. A prosecution brought for an improper purpose is only wrongful if in addition, reasonable and probable grounds for prosecuting are absent.”

This means it is the merits of the case against him that Zuma must answer to. Technicalities, representations and a pliable NPA can only carry you so far. But it is going to be a while still. “Inde lendlela esiyihambayo (It’s a long road we’re travelling)”, to quote ubaba Umsholozi.

Makhanya is away and will be back next week.

Read more on:    jacob zuma  |  npa

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