Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
30 December 2007

Jacob Zuma, the NPA and Thabo Mbeki

South Africans should ready themselves for a very rough ride as President Thabo Mbeki fights a rear-guard action against the potential Jacob Zuma Presidency. If the Sunday Times is to be believed, the big fight is only starting. The newspaper reported this morning that some members of the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) is furious at Jacob Zuma’s indictment on Friday and that they are suggesting that President Thabo Mbeki is behind the decision and the timing of the decision.

I must say, for once I cannot blame the conspiracy theorists for claiming the President has had a hand in this decision. The timing seems highly suspicious. As I said earlier, given the fact that the NPA itself had announced it would make a decision on the prosecution of Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi before deciding on re-charging Mr Zuma and given the fact that we have been fed stories about the NPA waiting for the Minister of Justice to be informed of the Selebi decision before an announcement is made, it seems bizarre that the NPA decided to charge Mr Zuma now.

It seems to me that this decision was taken with an eye on 7 January when the newly elected pro-Zuma NEC is scheduled to meet for the first time. A decision was obviously taken that it would be better to have an indictment and a court date before the ANC NEC could meet because once charges are laid it is politically difficult to withdraw them. President Mbeki will now be able to go to the NEC and claim that the decision to charge Mr Zuma is out of his hands and even if he suspends the acting head of the NPA, it will make no difference because the decision was already made.

The fact that no decision has been taken on Selebi suggests however that the President is placing severe pressure on acting (air)head of the NPA Mokotedi Mpshe not to charge Selebi. And the pressure is having an effect because despite announcements that a decision was imminent on Selebi we have heard nothing. Which can only mean pressure was put on him to charge Zuma and not to charge Selebi. What surprises me is the brazenness of this move. It suggests that President Mbeki and his supporters have no scruples left and are going for broke.

The big problem is that all this is bringing the credibility of the NPA into question and that it places severe strain on the legal system. Is President Mbeki really prepared to destroy our constitutional institutions to win political battles? If yes, he is worse than even I thought.

The NEC could of course recall President Mbeki and instruct the members of the NA to elect Jacob Zuma as President and I am sure they will use that as a bargaining chip against Mbeki. What I would give to be a fly on the wall at the first NEC meeting next week!

Not that the pro-Zuma camp has anything to crow about because it is clear that Mr Zuma has a serious case to answer. He is alleged now to have taken almost R4 million from Shaik and to have done at least 28 “favours” in return. If the state can prove that there was some form of intention on the part of Mr Zuma, it would prove a clear case of corruption.

Regardless of whether Mr Zuma is ever convicted of corruption, I would ask whether ANC leaders in the NEC does not think it a strange phenomenon that a politician had taken between R1 million and R4 million from a businessman. Mr Shaik actually admitted he gave Mr Zuma money – it is only the amount that is in dispute – so I wonder whether the ANC has become so corrupt that its leaders cannot see that there is something fundamentally wrong with taking so much money from a businessman.

The fact that Mr Zuma and his supporters cannot see that this is ethically unacceptable – regardless of whether it is a crime or not – just beggars belief.

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