African business, politics and lifestyle
No quick end seen in Zuma case
Keith Gottschalk, The University of the Western Cape
The Presidency currently has a line item budget of 10 million rand per year for Zuma’s legal expenses. By South African standards, this is a record. It will certainly enable his legal team to appeal every point of procedure, then if necessary the verdict, and sentence. Each appeal starts with a delay of six or nine months on the court rolls, repeated as it winds it way upwards through a full bench of the High Court, followed by the Supreme Court of Appeal, followed by the Constitutional Court.
Sooner or later Zuma’s lawyers will also discover that above the highest court in South Africa lies the new Southern African Development Community (SADC) Tribunal, based in Windhoek, already resorted to by Zimbabwean white ranchers.
In short, it’s unimaginable that Zuma’s trial will have concluded by election day in 2009. The last appeal might well stretch even beyond a one-term Zuma presidency, which would end in 2014.
There are several analogies in other western-style governments. U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney shrugged off similar allegations to those against Zuma. Israeli Prime Minister Erhud Olmert was not prosecuted for illegally receiving money, but has announced his early retirement.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi faces more serious claims than Zuma – allegations that he bribed judges. Italy’s ruling party reacted by passing a law forbidding the prosecution of a prime minister. Then they retroactively changed corporate accounting law to pre-empt another prosecution. At the same time a top ANC leader smeared South Africa’s judges as “counter-revolutionary”, Berlusconi smeared his judges as “Reds”.
This reflects badly on Italian democracy, unequal under the law. One law for the rulers and wealthy, and another for the citizens.
Not even fire-breathing ANC leaders have lowered themselves to the level of Berlusconi’s party, and proposed to change the law to prohibit prosecution of a President, or retroactively neuter the corruption laws. But they have organized massive demonstrations outside every court where Zuma appears. They have hotted up populist rhetoric to the point where words such as “kill” are now routine. These mass rallies and demonstrations by the ANC, COSATU, and SACP ensure that every verdict against Zuma will be de-legitimated in advance as political bias by a judiciary still mostly white.
Further, the terms of office of almost half the judges of the Constitutional Court will expire soon after President Mbeki’s own term. Should he become President, Jacob Zuma will be in the enviable position of being able, de facto, to select some of the judges before whom he might later appeal.
In short, should Zuma be found not guilty, the political results would be much rhetorical grandstanding. Should he be found guilty, South Africa’s democracy will be under similar strains to that in Italy or Israel.
His defence team will in that case no doubt lead in mitigation Zuma’s three decades of service to liberating South Africa, including one decade on Robben Island. Following this, it is indisputable that Zuma played a leading role as negotiator ending civil war in KwaZulu-Natal province during the early 1990s. He then took over from a frail Mandela as facilitator of the Burundi ceasefire talks in the late 1990s. Alongside President Mbeki, Zuma facilitated the Inter-Congo dialogue in 2002 which re-unified the four-way partitioned Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In short, Zuma has indisputably saved tens of thousands of lives in three countries by ending civil wars years earlier than without his efforts. Should Zuma receive a jail sentence, obviously he will be immediately pardoned by his successor as President or Acting President.