The unsung heroes of the Zuma prosecution

Former president Jacob Zuma. (Gallo Images)
Former president Jacob Zuma. (Gallo Images)

No, it isn't National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) Shaun Abrahams or Moipone Noko, the director of public prosecutions in KwaZulu-Natal, who must get the credit for finally dragging former president Jacob Zuma to court.

Their decision was easy – the legal horse had bolted. Zuma will soon appear in the Durban or Pietermaritzburg High Court to face 16 charges relating to the arms deal and his financial relationship with fraudster Schabir Shaik.

The two people who fought a brutal battle of nine years to bring Zuma closer to justice were veteran politicians Helen Zille and James Selfe; the Western Cape premier and DA federal chair respectively.

By their side was attorney Mervyn Smith, who has since passed away, and later Mmusi Maimane, who took over as DA leader from Zille in 2015. There is no doubt in my mind that if it wasn't for the DA's attempts to resuscitate this case, Zuma would have evaded justice.

I remember Zille standing outside the NPA's head office in April 2009, minutes after the former acting NDPP Mokotedi Mpshe had announced his decision to drop the charges against Zuma.

Mpshe's decision was solely based on the so-called "spy tapes", implicating former NDPP Bulelani Ngcuka and ex-Scorpions boss Leonard McCarthy in a conspiracy to prevent Zuma from becoming ANC president in 2007.

Holding a poster, Zille told journalists: "We are not going to let the matter lie down. We are consulting for legal advice."

For the next nine years, the DA under Zille, Selfe and later Maimane fought Zuma and the NPA tooth and nail, countering their every legal corner and move to escape prosecution. This must have cost the party millions of rands and probably added some grey hairs to Zille and Selfe.

This was the pinnacle of Zille's political career as DA leader and she made the Zuma prosecution her big mission. It was a brilliant strategic move – Mpshe's poor decision handed the DA a golden opportunity to make the rule of law its cause.

Politically, this was shrewd, but I truly believe Zille and Selfe believed from the start that Mpshe's decision constituted a travesty of justice and that it effectively meant some people were more equal than others at the NPA.

Zuma and the NPA fought the DA's attempts every step of the way, which culminated in almost 10 court cases.

Consecutive NDPPs opposed their applications but ultimately, they could no longer hide and was forced to hand over the "spy tapes" to the DA.

This led to consecutive courts finding that the "spy tapes" alone did not justify dropping the charges and that it was up to the trial judge to decide if Zuma could receive a fair trial.

In its attempts, the DA relied heavily on affidavits and memoranda by advocate Billy Downer, the prosecutor in the Shaik and Zuma matters.

Downer vehemently opposed Mpshe's view that the charges should be dropped and meticulously outlined his reason in numerous memoranda at were annexed to the DA's court applications.

Abrahams should do the right thing and assign Downer as chief prosecutor in the case. He successfully prosecuted Shaik and led the Zuma prosecution until it was stopped.

The DA, through championing this case for nine years, and the EFF, who made the Nkandla matter their cause and successfully made Zuma pay back the money, have showed just how effective opposition parties can be in a constitutional democracy.

- Basson is editor of News24. Follow him on Twitter @adriaanbasson

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