Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Expect greater turbulence in the wake of Zuma court outcome

The Jacob Zuma judgement (of yesterday 12/1/08) is eliciting cheers in some quarters and jeers in others. But for me, a sense of weariness and foreboding is a more relevant response.

It seems the justice system is unable to make charges stick - and the situation is not helped by widely conflicting judgements from the judiciary. All the latest judgement does is send the process back to the legal starting point, from where a new cycle of legal games and contestation between state and Zuma's legal counsel will most likely ensue.

The attempts to prosecute Zuma take place in a context where:

  • Corruption appears to be part of the operating mode of many major companies – in most cases of corruption, a company is often the corruptor;
  • The arms deal remains controversial – and Zuma correctly points out that he was not part of the national political scene at the time the arms deal was being forged and signed;
  • The government's tender processes has in general been undermined; the ANC has itself in an official 10 January 2009 statement argued that the tender process has been poisoned by corrupt practices and needed to be changed;
  • The crossover between business and politics in the last 14 years has raised its own questions - and serious ethical issues. Big Business has used BEE strategically and expediently; it has focused on "empowering" political connected people, ones who help them with information and inside insight about government plans, decisionmaking and tenders. Zuma has not been a central player in BEE deals.

The above context raises question about why Zuma in particular was selected for prosecution. Of course, while we are free to pose such a question, it is not wise for Zuma or those closest to him ask why he was singled out for prosecution. Anyone who is charged should accept that theoretically and legally anyone is eligible to be charged; those who are innocent should be confident they can prove their innocence or that they were wrongfully charged; any person (moreso a politician) has greater credibility when he or she submits to a legal process; and cynics (or in this case, critics of Zuma and the ANC) will argue that most people will cry foul at being prosecuted.

However, the long and short is that the months ahead will be turbulent (above and beyond what one normally expects during an election year). In terms of whether Zuma should go to court and face charges or not, we have two powerful forces facing off against each – one being the establishment and the other a mass based politically movement (sometimes termed the Zuma juggernaut).

In addition, there are many (potential) flashpoints – and tinder dry conditions for conflict in a number of areas. Any Zuma court appearances will become physical sites for expression of mass anger. As Cope calls for the ANC to drop Zuma and denounces him as an unworthy presidential candidate, the level of tension and conflict between ANC and Cope will be increased. And what with persons such as 702's John Robbie raising question's about the judiciary's credibility after such widely divergent decisions on Zuma, the judiciary will again become a target of vicious verbal attacks. Last but not least, the ongoing controversy around Zuma (coupled with his immense mass support) continues to fuel uncertainty and instability in the financial markets.

In this context, no one should be crowing about the outcome of the case, or about the likelihood of ongoing legal contestation (appeals and counter appeals) in the immediate and many months ahead. The political rollercoaster ride – distracting us from critical national tasks, from real debate about developmental policies and from the job of optimally positioning ourselves as a country in the world – is set to continue.

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