Quote of the week

Regard must be had to the higher standard of conduct expected from public officials, and the number of falsehoods that have been put forward by the Public Protector in the course of the litigation.  This conduct included the numerous “misstatements”, like misrepresenting, under oath, her reliance on evidence of economic experts in drawing up the report, failing to provide a complete record, ordered and indexed, so that the contents thereof could be determined, failing to disclose material meetings and then obfuscating the reasons for them and the reasons why they had not been previously disclosed, and generally failing to provide the court with a frank and candid account of her conduct in preparing the report. The punitive aspect of the costs order therefore stands.

Public Protector v South African Reserve Bank (CCT107/18) [2019] ZACC 29 (22 July 2019)
23 June 2008

Zuma trial must go ahead

I always liked comrade Blade Nzimande, leader of the South African Communist Party (SACP). Maybe it is because he sounds so camp when he speaks; or perhaps it is because the SACP has sometimes been a voice of reason on important issues such as Zimbabwe and the need for internal party democracy in the ANC.

I was therefore rather shocked to read in Business Day this morning that Nzimande, speaking shortly after the KwaZulu-Natal ANC conference where a call was made for the scrapping of Mr Jacob Zuma’s criminal trial, seemed to endorse this call, telling a rally of supporters:

This trial of (ANC) president Jacob Zuma is not a criminal trial but a political trial. It may be the first political trial since 1994.

Now, there has been a lot of dark muttering about the political motives behind the prosecution of Mr Zuma. So far no one has been able to provide any evidence of the conspiracy against Zuma and Mr Zuma himself has not come clean to explain who is leading this conspiracy and how they actually fabricated all this evidence of wrongdoing which have already led to the conviction and imprisonment of Schabir Shaik.

Mr Zuma has also never explained why he took all this money from a convicted fraudster, why he had met with arms company representatives who then paid him money via Shaik, why he had done favours for the fraudster, why he lied to Parliament about meeting the arms company representatives and why he is so anxious to prevent the diary of the arms company representative that shows he met with this representative from being tendered as evidence against him in a criminal trial.

As the defendant in a criminal trial, he has a right to remain silent and need never explain these things to anyone. But as a politician he really should not have this right. In a mature democracy his failure to answer these questions would long have disqualified him from holding office in any political party. I am surprised that journalists have not been more vigorous in asking Mr Zuma about these things. Surely if he wants to be President of the country he has a duty to explain to the public and to present an alternative version of the actual proven facts which – in the absence of an explanation – make him look like, how shall I put it, a crook.

It is not inconceivable that the Scorpions might have felt that it had political cover from President Thabo Mbeki to go after Zuma and that if President Mbeki had been as vigorous in undermining the Rule of Law to protect Zuma as he was in undermining it to protect his friend Jackie Selebi, then this case would never have seen the light of day.

But the problem is not that Mr Zuma is being charged. The highest court in the land had already confirmed that Zuma took more than a million bucks from a convicted fraudster as well as R500 000 from an arms company that was solicited as a bribe by Shaik and that he had done several favours for that fraudster, and had lied to Parliament about meeting the representatives of the arms company that gave the bribe. It also seems rather strange that an innocent man would do everything in his power to prevent documents about his financial affairs from being used in his trial.

It is for a court of law to decide whether these actions amount to criminal offenses, but it clearly makes Zuma a deeply flawed and damaged candidate for President. Especially in the absence of any explanation from him.

If the SACP wanted to act in a principled way to the prosecution of Mr Zuma it would not talk about the Zuma trial being a political trial. Instead it would affirm respect for the Rule of Law, the independence of the National Prosecuting Authority and our courts, and would call on the Scorpions to also vigorously investigate and, where appropriate, prosecute other politicians who had taken bribes during the arms deal.

If there is a problem with Mr Zuma’s trial, it is that he is being singled out for prosecution while others (including the ANC itself, according to Andrew Feinstein) might be getting away. The only decent and principled thing would be to ensure that all those who had taken money from arms companies (Chippie, where are you?) are also prosecuted and to demand that the Scorpions does its job properly.

But Nzimande and other supporters of Mr Zuma is really trying to defend the indefensible. Whether Mr Zuma is ever convicted of a crime or not, we already all know that he is ethically tainted and that he is unfit for high office.

This kind of attack undermines respect for the the criminal justice system and our courts and is dangerous. It prepares the groundwork for a rejection of a guilty verdict against Mr Zuma as “political” (no matter what the facts might say) and really undermines one of the pillars of our democracy – all for short term political gain.

As Hillary Clinton might have said: “Shame on you Blade Nzimande.”

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