African business, politics and lifestyle
Holding pattern dawns in Zuma saga
Raenette Taljaard, Helen Suzman Foundation
ANC President Jacob Zuma’s quest for a pre-trial stay of prosecution looks certain to perpetuate uncertainty and an uncomfortable ongoing holding pattern and turmoil inherent in these dramatic events.
These compounded uncertainties do not only affect the South African economy with perceptions of political risk ratcheting up as key members of the new ANC leadership step up the rhetoric as Zuma goes to court but also creates tremors for core constitutional institutions and the bench in South Africa. After upholding the search and seizure warrants used against Zuma and rebuking his legal team for what amounts to delaying tactics, the Court also discouraged pre-trial legal wrangles of the kind that started in Pietermaritzburg.
Various options are on the table for Zuma: playing for time through delaying tactics; if convicted a possible Constitutional amendment to stay prosecution for a sitting President, or a general amnesty for the arms deal.
New revelations alleging corrupt activity on the part of President Thabo Mbeki in the arms deal – which he chaired as head of a Cabinet Sub-committee – have been dismissed but will fuel the ongoing perceptions that Zuma’s is a selective prosecution, adding fuel to an already burning fire that appears set to singe the judiciary. Unless there is a full account of what happened in the arms deal – a scenario unlikely on the eve of the fourth democratic poll – the rumblings of conspiracy will continue to eat away at the heart of the ruling party irrespective of former President Nelson Mandela’s calls for unity as the party celebrated his 90th.
What appears certain, irrespective of which route is the most likely denouement of the Zuma saga, is that the rule of law, constitutionalism and the South African bench will never be quite the same. If the arms deal was the loss of innocence for South Africa’s ruling party, the Zuma trial will be the collateral damage to constitutional structures with long-term consequences.