COPE Abandons the Rule of Law

2014-04-14 00:21

The Congress of the People (COPE) announced last week that they had turned down the Speaker’s invitation to participate in Parliament’s ad hoc committee. The ad hoc committee was established to deal with the impeachment motion brought against President Zuma by the Leader of the Opposition, Lindiwe Mazibuko, on the basis of the adverse findings made against him by the Public Protector, Advocate Thuli Madonsela, with respect to his Nkandla residence.

The Nkandla fiasco has provided the Opposition, collectively, with much-needed ammunition. The ANC, generally, and President Zuma, specifically, are unable to gain much traction with stories of good governance while Nkandla serves as the albatross which hangs around their necks. While Nkandla itself is piffling in Rand-value when compared to the grand-scale corruption that unfolds in South Africa annually, it serves as a potent symbol of the size and scale of the corruption that people have been willing to endure. Nkandla is that proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

In this melee, which becomes more complicated and complex with each passing day, we have COPE’s decision.

In justifying their non-participation, COPE’s Johann Abrie had this to say:

‘‘By participating in an ad-hoc committee, which will certainly be packed with a majority of President Zuma's most loyal batsmen, a dangerous precedent will be created to which the Congress of the People cannot be party to.

At this time, our participation in a committee of this nature would be tantamount to assisting President Zuma avoiding his responsibility to uphold the constitution.

We remain resolute that Mr. Zuma's conduct is not dissimilar to that of a person who came in possession of stolen goods, but refuse to return it to the rightful owners, the taxpayer.’’

While I am sure that many will share COPE’s sense of righteous anger, one must question COPE’s conduct. In choosing to ignore the rules which govern this situation, COPE has effectively reduced itself to being no better than the man they stand in judgment of.

Make no mistake, I do not doubt that COPE is incorrect in its assessment: the ad hoc committee is likely to be a whitewash for Zuma. Parliamentary committees are largely determined by numbers and given the ANC’s dominance in Parliament it stands to reason that it shall dominate the committee and it shall do whatever it can to exonerate their Number 1.

But, by prejudging the outcome and deriding the process for a lack of legitimacy – even before that process has begun in earnest – COPE seems only too happy to set aside the rules. Zuma can only ever face an impeachment motion where the committee has conducted a preliminary investigation and passed it onto the National Assembly for resolution. That Zuma is facing investigations by other entities and that he can still comply with Madonsela’s Report prior to the committee’s deliberations is irrelevant. This is about impeachment.

In its eagerness to show its distaste for Zuma and the ANC, and its unquestioning support of Madonsela, COPE has done what it so bemoans: it has eroded the rule of law. It is, at worst, grossly negligent and, at best, hypocritical in the extreme. Considering that this is the same party which says that Parliament regularly flouts the rules and that the Constitution is being eroded, the fact that it now actively rejects the opportunity to be part of a legal process that is enshrined by that very Constitution speaks volumes of its understanding. It seems that COPE is only too happy to let the rules apply when they benefit them but not when they may benefit their opponents.

Given that this is a party which thinks it can one day be in government, I shudder to think whether it will be any better than the ANC it now takes aim at. Considering its dubious origins however, that comes as little surprise.

This is also the kind of grand-standing and self-interested politics that will undermine this process even further. It allows the ANC and its allies to demonise this as a witch-hunt. As we have seen from Zuma’s various legal trials, from rape or corruption, a single misstep by his opponents have been manipulated to score political and, sometimes, legal points. This is better than an own-goal: not only has it betrayed COPE’s seriously shocking lip service attitude to the rule of law it also allows the ANC to score as much as it wants; the goal post is left wide open.

There may be some argument as to when laws should be ignored because obeying them serves the interests of an illegitimate regime. Indeed, that is the same argument that the ANC – and many others – used in defying the laws of Apartheid. And in that hypothetical circumstance, I agree. But the truth is that democratic South Africa is not so dire. Things are bad but they are not as bad as they were pre-1994. The fact that we could even get such a report, that it could be reported on and I could write it indicates that we are a strong democracy: we have our fair share of problems and growing pains but on the whole we are okay. And that means playing by the rules whether COPE likes it or not. Anything else is self-serving politics and does little to build credibility in a South Africa that so desperately needs it.

The temptation to make a big noise about this is irresistible. For a flagging party like COPE in particular, banging the Democratic Alliance’s well-used anti-corruption drum may be an easy way to gain attention (and votes). But in doing so, COPE has shown that is more interested in acting in its self-interest than in the national interest. For if it were to do the latter it would not peacocking as it is.

As the author and campaigner Tiffany Madison put it: ‘‘When the rule of law disappears, we are ruled by the whims of men.’’ That’s what COPE has complained of for so long. It’s a pity it’s now guilty of the same thing.

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