Zuma corruption charges: Time to draw a line in the sand

President Jacob Zuma will fight to the death. Picture: Halden Krog
President Jacob Zuma will fight to the death. Picture: Halden Krog

The citizens of South Africa cannot but believe that their president is regarded as above the law.

This weakens the very heart of our Constitution - the rule of law. It strengthens the culture of impunity in the country and undermines the legitimacy of the state.

The governing ANC should not be allowed to shrug the shoulders and say that it is a private legal matter. Jacob Zuma is an ANC deployee who serves at the behest of the party.

But the judiciary and the broader legal profession should also start an urgent conversation on how the president of the country has made a mockery of the criminal justice system.

The Supreme Court of Appeal’s decision last week that the criminal charges against Zuma should be reinstated was met with an overwhelming “oh well, we know he’s going to get away with it” from the public.

The irony of course is that Zuma is possibly guilty of much more serious crimes of corruption, fraud and money laundering than the few million rand involved in his relationship with convicted fraudster Schabir “Lazarus” Shaik.

The last five or so years we have been calculating state corruption in billions rather than the millions during the Mbeki era.

Zuma has been dodging the courts for more than a decade.

Shaik was brought to court as far back as October 2004 for his part in the corrupt relationship he had with Zuma. President Thabo Mbeki fired Zuma as his deputy in June 2005 and the charges against Zuma were withdrawn in April 2009 – wrongfully so according to two court findings.

It is true that others with unlimited sources for legal costs (in Zuma’s case, our taxpayers’ money) have also played this so-called Stalingrad game with justice, but this man only succeeds, and succeeds for much longer, because he has political power, power the voters entrusted to him.

All of us witness this outrage dragging on and on, but we are powerless to do anything about it.

This past weekend we had to read that the case could be dragged out for four or more years if Zuma, his lawyers and his lapdogs in the prosecuting authority have their way – or be scrapped altogether.

We dare not allow this.

The independence of our judiciary and the professionalism of our courts are almost all that stand between us and anarchy in 2017.

South Africa cannot afford one individual to show a fat middle finger to these institutions and get away with it.

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng and his brothers and sisters on the bench in all our higher courts should focus their minds on this problem. It is with them that Zuma is playing cat and mouse; it is their credibility he is trampling on.

I’m not clear on what Mogoeng can do within the narrow confines of legal etiquette, but it is a fact that as chief justice he is the primary guardian of the credibility and prestige of the judiciary.

Apart from the fact that the accused is the head of state, this is not just another criminal case: there is strong prima facie evidence that Zuma had a corrupt relationship with Shaik, evidence that has been accepted by three courts.

Zuma is behaving like Grace Mugabe who brutally assaulted a South African citizen in South Africa while on a private visit and got away with it.

But there is no provision for any immunity for Zuma, and South Africa is not Zimbabwe.

There would not have been a problem at all if we had a National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) that had not been captured by the Zuma inner circle.

The head of this authority, Shaun Abrahams, should be the immediate target of relentless civil society pressure.

We should do our outmost to force him (and hope that some in his office will support this) to hear Zuma’s arguments around the prosecution within days rather than months. (I hope Abrahams realises that Zuma has no legal right to make this presentation to the NPA, that he is actually just doing Zuma a favour seldom if ever accorded to others.)

If Abrahams then decides not to prosecute, the decision should be taken to court as soon as possible and Mogoeng should realise that it won’t be acceptable that we wait several months for this to get on the court roll.

If Zuma succeeds in taking his case to the Constitutional Court, it should get preference over all other cases.

If the decision is to prosecute, the earliest possible date for the hearing should be set.

Through its inaction, the judiciary runs the risk of being viewed by the citizenry as condoning Zuma’s efforts to avoid justice.

The ANC, including those presidential candidates who now criticise him but shielded him for years, cannot simply wash their hands of Zuma’s dangerous legal games. To still say “let the law run its course” is an insult to our Constitution and all of us.

It’s time to draw a very clear line in the sand.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

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