Guest Column

Lula's latest 'moment' should inspire SA

2017-07-14 10:47
Brazil's former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. (AP File)

Brazil's former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. (AP File)

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Vanessa da Rocha

When Luis Inácio Lula da Silva took over the presidency of Brazil in 2003, there was the fear that he would sink the nation. The positive results he got in the fight against poverty and in sectors of the economy ensured that he was re-elected and bounced back. 

The former Brazilian president's triumph was widely quoted during Zuma's 2009 election, with reference to his belief that he could also go against negative expectations surrounding him. Lula became an inspiration and a model to be followed by Zuma, with many commentators referring to the possibility of him having his own "Lula moment".

Now, Lula has been sentenced to prison in Brazil for corruption and money laundering. While the court ruling on Wednesday allowed the former Brazilian president to appeal his sentence, he was convicted of having relations with a contractor who gifted him an apartment in São Paulo valued at $300 000. The former president denies that the property is his, but the relationship was proven in the criminal process.
It is impossible not to draw comparisons between Zuma and Lula: They are both of humble origin, came from the struggle of sectors that were despised and were elected to the presidency against the wishes of the two countries’ elites respectively. 

As for the allegations of corruption, they are also united: Both are suspected of criminal involvement with big companies in the country. Both have greatly disappointed voters.
With the political crisis plaguing Brazil, the Zuma government wants to see itself far from the specter of comparison with the Brazilian leader. The Brazilian scenario is dramatic. Lula handed over command in 2011 to party colleague Dilma Rousseff who suffered an impeachment last year. The Congress found flaws in her government’s financial accounting. 

With the fall of Rousseff in August 2016, Vice-president Michel Temer took office. Months later as he prepared to boost advances in the economy, a political tsunami came down on his head. He was accused of encouraging the silence of a politician being bought and accepting more than $11 million in bribes from the owner of the largest meat company in the world.

The Brazilian scandal does not stop there. The investigation called "Lava Jato" (which means “car wash”), which resulted in Lula's conviction, has already sent more than 200 politicians and businessmen to jail. Among them, the chairman of the Chamber of Deputies and the summit of Brazilian business builders. 

Brazil's largest state-owned company, Petrobras, which is responsible for oil exploration in the country, has also been implicated in schemes totalling more than $12 billion that have been diverted from the public coffers. Before that, in Lula's time, the “mensalão” scandal occurred, when his party paid parliamentarians to vote in favour of the government. The court ended the process in 2014 with the sum of 24 convictions.
All this filth in Brazilian politics has been revealed in recent years, during Zuma's tenure. During this period, Brazilians had access to all the details of the inquiries that investigated the deviation of public funds in the judicial, administrative and legislative spheres. Everything was revealed to the nation and the judgements in the Supreme Court of Brazil could even be watched live on TV. 

Meanwhile, the South African people are still uncertain about the conduct of their president. We have heard a number of allegations of corporate favouritism in contracts and a suspicious relationship between the president and the Guptas, but it remains unproven. So far, no investigation has evolved to the point of putting an end to doubts about the conduct of Zuma.

South Africa observes everything that happens in Brazil with attention. The lack of clarity about Zuma's actions causes many to wish for him to have the same end as Lula, but the presumption of innocence until investigations prove otherwise is a guarantee of democratic countries that should never be ignored. 

Parallel to this, accountability to the people is another prerequisite for the good progress of institutions. 

Brazil has embarrassed its nation with the revelation of the advanced techniques of corruption, but on the other hand, has benefitted from the transparent investigation and punishment of white collar criminals. 

In this sense Brazil, even sunk in political crisis, once again serves as inspiration for South Africa.

- Vanessa de Rocha is a freelance journalist and has cover public security, political and social issues around the world.

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