In­sti­tu­tional fight-back

The Africa Report - - FRONTLINE -

Who runs South Africa’s in­sti­tu­tions? How strong is our democ­racy? Is this what we fought for? Such ques­tions have been whizzing around the coun­try over the past five years as con­cerns mul­ti­plied both about cor­rup­tion charges against Pres­i­dent Zuma and his busi­ness friends, and the use of the state se­cu­rity ma­chin­ery to stymie po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents. Af­ter the furore of the $5bn arms deal in 1999, a key test for the coun­try’s in­sti­tu­tions was the seem­ingly mun­dane mat­ter of whether Zuma had the right to spend $20m of state funds on im­prove­ments to his home­stead in Nkandla. The saga touched on key in­sti­tu­tional themes: ac­count­abil­ity of state power, ju­di­cial in­de­pen­dence and the abuse of power by the se­cu­rity ser­vices. Af­ter in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ists Ste­faans Brüm­mer and Sam Sole broke the Nkandla story, the then pub­lic pro­tec­tor Thuli Madon­sela ex­am­ined the case at length, con­clud­ing that Zuma should re­pay the state funds used. Zuma de­murred and launched his own in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Mean­while, the se­cu­rity ser­vices started in­ves­ti­gat­ing a claim that Madon­sela had links with US in­tel­li­gence. This counter strat­egy failed. Chief Jus­tice Mo­go­eng Mo­go­eng de­liv­ered an his­toric and scathing judge­ment against Zuma in March 2016. “The Pres­i­dent failed to up­hold‚ de­fend and re­spect the con­sti­tu­tion as the supreme law of the land,” he wrote. Mo­go­eng and a full bench of the Con­sti­tu­tional Court ruled that Zuma had breached the con­sti­tu­tion by fail­ing to com­ply with Madon­sela’s rec­om­men­da­tions, and is­sued a re­me­dial or­der to re­pay the state funds. In a hu­mil­i­at­ing U-turn, Zuma of­fered a qual­i­fied apol­ogy and promised to re­pay the funds. A few months later, Pre­to­ria’s High Court over­turned the Na­tional Pros­e­cut­ing Au­thor­ity (NPA)’S 2009 de­ci­sion to drop 783 cor­rup­tion charges against Zuma and re­in­stated the charges. Then it de­nied the NPA leave to ap­peal. It was the drop­ping of those 783 charges that al­lowed Zuma to stand as ANC pres­i­dent in 2009.

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