Writing in the Business Day today Tim Cohen suggests that ‘First it was the Scorpions, and now the National Prosecuting Authority as a whole is being gradually Stalingradised’. Interesting to note that although justice Davis refused to grant interim relief today the ANC is now prepared to allow a motion of non-confidence to take place early next year.
Here are extracts from Tim Cohen’s article Zuma’s legal saga good for judiciary, bad for state first published in Business Day today.
WHAT is one to make of the attempt by the Democratic Alliance to force a judicial review of the decision to drop corruption charges against President Jacob Zuma? Is it an act of high righteousness or low politics? Is it raking up the coals of a fire that has long since waned just to score some political points? Or is it a noble attempt to correct a great wrong perpetrated on the judicial system?
My feelings have wavered on the topic of Zuma’s corruption charges. Even after his financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, was convicted, I confess I felt a bit sorry for Zuma. The evidence at the trial in respect of Shaik was extremely strong: Shaik set out to use Zuma as a financial stepping stone. But the evidence against Zuma was much less clear. It seemed to me that Zuma was a bit embarrassed by Shaik, but he was so cash-strapped at the time that he tolerated his avaricious sidekick. It seems impossible that he wasn’t aware that Shaik was trading on his name.
Yet, over the years, Zuma has lost my sympathy. His “Stalingrad strategy” to avoid throwing himself at the mercy of the courts cost taxpayers millions and gradually twisted South Africa’s legal institutions into absurd contortions. As taxpayers have been paying all his legal bills, for reasons I have never really understood, the approach recommended by the lawyers is understandably to take up every conceivable legal issue, whether it was remotely legally judiciable or not. Every loss was then taken on appeal and the appeal was then appealed against.
Finally, it seems pretty obvious that Zuma’s mates in intelligence slipped his lawyer some tapes of a few politicians, including then president Thabo Mbeki, discussing the case. But I happen to know they were not discussing the case itself; the National Prosecuting Authority had already decided, on its own, to charge Zuma. What they were discussing was when exactly the charges should be brought — before or after the Polokwane conference.
Mbeki, in what seems to be an act of real fairness and consideration, argued against bringing the charges before Polokwane. So, far from the vindictive, politically inspired campaign that the Zuma camp claimed was being brought against its champion, Mbeki was pressing for a fair fight in Polokwane.
In any event, when Zuma won in Polokwane, the National Prosecuting Authority found itself in an extremely tight corner, as it was, in effect, being asked to prosecute its future boss. The only way out was to find a good reason to drop the charges. The spy tapes presented themselves as a convenient reason.
The court cases around that decision and the spy tapes, described as “twak” by the former National Prosecuting Authority head Bulelani Ngcuka, are still continuing four years later. Most cases in this matter have fabulously underpinned the judiciary’s independence. But they have also weakened the structures of the state. First it was the Scorpions, and now the National Prosecuting Authority as a whole is being gradually Stalingradised.