Method in the madness of president’s about-turn
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and the NPA approached the Supreme Court of Appeal after the High Court in Pretoria ruled that the charges, which were withdrawn in 2009, be reinstated.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.