[DEBATE] : Weekender Editorial on Zuma
tintinyana at gmail.com
Sun Sep 14 17:57:23 BST 2008
High court ruling proves integrity of SA's judiciary is intact
DURING the trial of Schabir Shaik, supporters of African National
Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma complained bitterly that it was as
if it was he who was on trial.
Friday's ruling in the Pietermaritzburg High Court elicited feelings
of déj€ vu: the case was ostensibly about Zuma and whether the
decision to charge him with fraud, corruption, racketeering and money
laundering was arrived at fairly. Yet it was President Thabo Mbeki and
some of his administration's most senior members who emerged looking
What might have gone down in history as a day of rare triumph for
Mbeki after Zimbabwe's warring factions finally came to an agreement
on power sharing, now seems likely to be the beginning of the end of
his political career. A legacy that was on the brink of being salvaged
against all odds, has now surely been dashed on the rocks of
Judge Chris Nicholson stressed that, in ruling that the National
Prosecuting Authority (NPA) should have allowed Zuma to make
representations before he was recharged, he was not passing judgment
on Zuma's guilt or innocence. That means it is theoretically possible
for the NPA to go back to the drawing board and follow the correct
procedures before charging Zuma for a third time.
However, the likelihood of this happening is surely slim . The judge
was scathing in his assessment not only of Mbeki and his willingness
to influence decisions of the prosecuting authority for political
reasons, but of the NPA — especially former head Bulelani Ngcuka, who
infamously declined to prosecute Zuma along with Shaik despite
claiming to have a "prima facie" case — and former justice minister
Penuell Maduna, who condoned it.
Nicholson's verdict does not supersede Zuma's parallel court
application to have the charges against him dropped permanently, but
his findings have surely strengthened Zuma's legal hand significantly.
If the NPA decides to recharge Zuma, it will now almost certainly mean
dragging before court a sitting president who has been found to be a
victim of a political conspiracy.
It seems there was a conspiracy after all, but confined to ANC members
rather than the opposition, media and judiciary — as some of the
alliance's less responsible leaders allege.
The ANC's response was constrained and dignified, with little sign of
the triumphalism that might have been expected, given the level of
emotion that has been attached to the Zuma trial. However, the new
leadership of the party would be well advised to bear in mind that
Zuma has not been cleared of all wrongdoing.
If he is not recharged, it will be because of procedural errors and
the political machinations of some of its most senior past leaders,
not necessarily because the arms deal and related subcontracts were
Nicholson ruled that he did not have the powers to order that a
commission of inquiry be appointed to investigate the arms deal, but
suggested that this would be in the interests of the country. The ANC
should seriously consider the wisdom of his advice .
The decision to prosecute Zuma has divided SA , bringing into sharp
focus the willingness of people on both sides of the divide to
undermine essential democratic institutions such as the judiciary to
achieve political ends.
It is now incumbent on those who accused Zuma's supporters of raping
the judiciary to prove their own democratic credentials by accepting
Nicholson's judgment unreservedly. By the same token, the judge's pro-
Zuma ruling is food for thought for those who insisted he could not
possibly get a fair trial.
This should be seen as an opportunity for SA to reflect on the
principles of our democracy, respect for the rule of law and the need
to safeguard the independence of all our institutions, especially the
judiciary. Above all, it is a time for all South Africans actively to
seek to heal the wounds we have afflicted on ourselves over the torrid
past few years.
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