Method in the mad­ness of pres­i­dent’s about-turn

Business Day - - NATIONAL - Genevieve Quin­tal

Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s con­ces­sion that the de­ci­sion to drop the 783 counts of cor­rup­tion, rack­e­teer­ing, money laun­der­ing and fraud charges against him was ir­ra­tional can hardly be con­strued as a de­feat.

Rather, the con­ces­sion gives the pres­i­dent the op­por­tu­nity to put the mat­ter into the safe hands of a key ally, Na­tional Prose­cut­ing Author­ity (NPA) boss Shaun Abra­hams.

Zuma and the NPA ap­proached the Supreme Court of Ap­peal af­ter the High Court in Pre­to­ria ruled that the charges, which were with­drawn in 2009, be re­in­stated.

How­ever, in a sur­prise about-turn at the 11th hour, Zuma’s coun­sel said he agreed that the de­ci­sion was ir­ra­tional and was happy for a trial to com­mence. But the con­ces­sion had a catch. The pres­i­dent wants to be able to make fresh rep­re­sen­ta­tions to the NPA.

Mak­ing fresh rep­re­sen­ta­tions would mean fur­ther drag­ging out a mat­ter that has al­ready gone on for the past eight years and that, ac­cord­ing to the DA, has cost tax­pay­ers pos­si­bly R30m so far.

It would take a while for Zuma and his le­gal team to make these rep­re­sen­ta­tions.

It is not clear why he would want to do so when in 2009 he was given that op­por­tu­nity and his rep­re­sen­ta­tions were re­jected be­fore he was charged.

For­mer NPA head Mokotedi Mp­she took the de­ci­sion to with­draw the charges cit­ing po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence by then Scor­pi­ons boss Leonard Mc­Carthy, who sup­ported for­mer pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki.

Ac­cord­ing to Mp­she, this in­flu­enced the tim­ing of the serv­ing of the in­dict­ment on Zuma at a time when he was con­test­ing Mbeki at the ANC’s 2007 elec­tive con­fer­ence.

This was based on record­ings and tele­phone con­ver­sa­tions known as the spy tapes.

But there was no in­ter­fer­ence in the pros­e­cu­to­rial process and Mp­she him­self said he be­lieved Zuma would have re­ceived a fair trial.

Supreme Court of Ap­peal Jus­tice Azhar Cachalia said Mp­she’s de­ci­sion to drop the charges in­di­cated that ei­ther “he was a man op­er­at­ing with­out know­ing what he is do­ing” or he had not ap­plied his mind.

Zuma’s ar­gu­ment now is that if Mp­she’s de­ci­sion to drop the charges was ir­ra­tional, he wants some­one to make a ra­tio­nal de­ci­sion. That ra­tio­nal de­ci­sion will now fall on Abra­hams.

Abra­hams, since tak­ing up the po­si­tion of NPA head in 2016, has been dubbed a Zuma lackey, earn­ing him the moniker “Shaun the sheep”.

Un­der his stew­ard­ship, NPA lead­er­ship has faced a cri­sis. He and two of his se­nior of­fi­cials had to re­verse a de­ci­sion to pros­e­cute for­mer fi­nance min­is­ter Pravin Gord­han af­ter po­lit­i­cal machi­na­tions were re­vealed in the case.

There was new in­for­ma­tion that came to light — like the con­tra­dic­tions in court pa­pers about who made the de­ci­sion to charge Zuma in the first place. Was it Mc­Carthy or Mp­she, or was it a col­lec­tive de­ci­sion?

It also emerged in court that Mp­she used in­cor­rect leg­is­la­tion when mak­ing his de­ci­sion to with­draw charges.

DA fed­eral ex­ec­u­tive chair­man James Selfe said there was a real dan­ger that Zuma was try­ing to take this mat­ter away from the ju­di­ciary.

If Abra­hams de­cided to drop the charges again, Selfe said the DA would con­tinue to fight this mat­ter and en­sure Zuma had his day in court, even if it took an­other 18 years.

Zuma has suf­fered many court de­feats in the past two years and his sup­port­ers seem to have lit­tle trust in the ju­di­ciary, ac­cus­ing it of over­reach­ing into the po­lit­i­cal space.

Shaun Abra­hams

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