Melanie Verwoerd

What Zuma fears most

2017-05-24 07:48
President Jacob Zuma (AP)

President Jacob Zuma (AP)

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There is a common belief that the reason President Zuma refuses to heed the calls for his resignation is the fear that he might end up in jail. Therefore, the argument goes, he wants to stay on till 2019 or else wants to be assured that the next president will not have him prosecuted, thus the push for his ex-wife. 

So I am often asked why someone like Cyril Ramaphosa does not cut a deal with President Zuma, ensuring that the charges against him will not be reinstated (i.e. that he will be granted amnesty from future prosecution), in return for his early departure? 

Although I know that this has been discussed by people in the ANC there are legal, political and moral issues to take into account:

Firstly, there is the Constitution. The Constitution states in section 84(j) that “the president is responsible for …. pardoning or reprieving offenders and remitting any fines, penalties or forfeitures”. So the Constitution does provide for pardon. The problem is that pardon presupposes a guilty verdict after a prosecution. Amnesty, on the other hand, is usually understood as a general pardon for offenses, especially political offenses, granted before any trial or conviction. 

President Zuma would certainly want to be assured that none of the 783 charges of corruption, fraud, racketeering and money laundering linked to his relationship with convicted criminal Shabir Shaik will be reinstated. Or for that matter the case against him for fraud, corruption and theft relating to the renovations at Nkandla brought by the DA and EFF. 

So it is clear that in his case what would be required is a general amnesty that is currently not provided for by the Constitution. So in order for any successor to grant amnesty to the current president, a constitutional amendment would be required. Until about a year ago, I was assured by senior members in the DA that they would vote for such an amendment, should it mean that Zuma would go. 

However, following the local government elections and with the wind behind their backs, the DA seems no longer willing to discuss the issue. Of course the EFF might still consider it, but that brings me to the second issue. 

Such an amendment sets a very bad precedent. In a country where crime and corruption is so rampant, it is extremely problematic to send the message that the top person will be let off any crime that he/she commits during his/her tenure as president. This would also apply to all future presidents, since naturally the Constitution can’t be amended only to apply to President Zuma.

One can of course argue that there is a larger good at stake here, i.e. the future of the country, which necessitates that all the moral and legal obstacles should be overcome. The question then arises whether the president is actually concerned about going to court. For him to even consider such a “deal”, he has to believe that he is at risk of successful prosecution, because he has done something wrong. 

If his utterances over the last couple of years are anything to go by, the answer is no. He does not believe that he has ever done anything wrong. 

As far back as March 2014 he said to a crowd in Gugulethu in relation to the Nkandla saga:  “I did not use the public’s money in Nkandla. What I’m saying is I’m not guilty. Even if they look for me under a tree they can’t find me. I did nothing wrong. I did not do anything.”

More than two years later in December 2016, at an ANC Youth League Conference in Durban, he said: “Tell me what is it that I have done wrong? And when I ask them, they run out of answers.”

Last Sunday at a service of the Abundant Life Church at the People’s Stadium in Durban, Zuma said: "(People say) ‘there is a problem in our country,’ Why? What has happened? ...We always hear (people)…talk about Zuma. No one has come out to say 'Zuma has done this and that'. Other than that Zuma has a movement. If I am not told what I have done wrong, I cannot correct my mistakes because I don't know what I have done wrong."

Of course one can argue that politicians, comrades, the courts, the churches and chapter 9 institutions have pointed out his mistakes to him, but the bottom line remains that he does not appear to think that he has done anything wrong and even believes that if he is taken to court that he will win. 

However, I do believe there is another, related issue that does concern him more and possibly also explains his insistence to cling to power: his children. President Zuma must be aware that if some of the reports around dubious deals related to state capture are indeed true, some of his children might be implicated and therefore might be vulnerable to future court cases against them. This would greatly trouble him and of course like most parents, he would do anything to prevent this from happening. It can also be expected that, as the matriarch of the family, should Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma become president she would want to protect the children as well – albeit not her own biological children. 

And so even if the political, moral and legal obstacles could be overcome in the case of president Zuma, it is impossible to see how amnesty could be granted to his whole extended family. 

It is clear to me that the popular “just give him amnesty” narrative does not give us the solution to the current problem. It might help to sweeten some future deal, but it will take a lot more than just guaranteeing the disappearance of the charges to loosen the grip of our Teflon President. 

- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland. 

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