Trojan horse turned liability
Or state president in waiting?
THE LEADERSHIP OF the ANC may have niftily got rid of the “Thabo Mbeki problem”. But a potentially potent new one has been created. That’s the predicament of running an election campaign with a perception of corruption hanging over the head of state president-elect Jacob Zuma. There’s real concern in the ANC leadership that the electorate will stay away on voting day next year to express their dissatisfaction over a special deal being hatched to keep Zuma from facing his charges in court.
The divisive problem blamed on Mbeki hasn’t gone away. Finweek mapped out various scenarios based on the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA) options, the various factional debates in the ANC as well as the political ramifications with regard to some of those. OPTIONS OPEN TO THE NPA There are two options: The NPA can appeal or abide by Judge Chris Nicholson’s ruling in the Pietermaritzburg High Court, which found the NPA breached proper procedure when it recharged Zuma in December last year. Abiding by that decision would mean the NPA could give up or follow the proper procedure and recharge Zuma. Several lawyers, advocates and legal academics that Finweek interviewed on this subject agreed the appeal route is probably the best shot the NPA has at recharging Zuma. Because it would be a civil case, the procedure for that is for the NPA to approach Nicholson himself for leave to appeal.
All this begs questions about how far the ANC will go to make sure the NPA gives up sooner rather than later. While the party can’t be seen to be interfering, as that would be doing exactly what Mbeki was accused of, various political scenarios may play themselves out at the same time as the legal processes. HOSTAGE SCENARIO The NPA appeals but loses in all its attempts, including its appeal to the Constitutional Court. Zuma is inaugurated state president without being recharged. While that’s very possible, sources in the ANC are already raising concerns that a president who comes into office with the image that a special deal was cut to keep him out of jail comes with significant risk, in that it could exacerbate division and factionalism in the ANC’s ranks. That contestation and unease could deepen existing party factionalism.
Political academic and author William Gumede says: “Making Zuma president of SA won’t end the leadership vacuum in the ANC and the country but may actually worsen it.” THE NPA FORGES AHEAD If the NPA appeal process is successful and the path is again open for Zuma to be recharged, at what point will Zuma become a serious liability for the ANC? According to Mbeki’s supporters in the ANC, there’s a significant group in the party who believe he should face the charges and the legal process should be completed.
In that scenario, Zuma is recharged. With Mbeki completely out of the picture, acting State President Kgalema Motlanthe could stay on as President of the country until Zuma’s legal issues have been concluded. There are some in the party who argue that, even before the election campaign kicks off, Zuma should be convinced to remain ANC party president while Motlanthe leads the country in Government. PERMANENT STAY OF PROSECUTION FOR ZUMA In that scenario there’s a good chance that Nicholson will permanently chuck out the old charges of corruption because they’ve been around too long and compromised Zuma’s right to a speedy trial. But there’s a question mark about the newer charges. The FW de Klerk Foundation’s advocate, Paul Hoffman, believes Nicholson may well rule that Zuma has to answer those racketeering charges. The Constitutional Court recently ruled the documentation for those charges admissible. Hoffman doesn’t believe a case can be made about political interference based on those charges, as they depend on hard forensic evidence.
If that happens Zuma could end up facing charges in court after all and that would put the ANC leadership under pressure to reconsider their candidate for the country’s top job. The question is whether a state president could handle so much legal fare on his plate at the same time as take over the primary role of governing the country?
LOGICAL CONCLUSION OR FANCIFUL IDEAL? In that scenario the NPA either loses its appeal or decides to throw in the towel. Motlanthe steps down to make way for Zuma after the ANC wins the 2009 election. The party and its alliance partners emerge after the election unified, after having forgiven and/or forgotten about the dramatic hostilities against Mbeki and his successor that nearly tore the party apart. PRESIDENTIAL PARDON The NPA wins its appeal, reinstates the charges (using the correct procedures) and Zuma is found guilty. An SMS campaign has already started, courtesy of the ANC Youth League. They’re calling for Motlanthe to give Zuma a presidential pardon. While that may scupper Zuma’s intention to be state president it would be a way for him to stay out of jail.
That’s another option that would leave Zuma and Mbeki living their days on the periphery of party power while Motlanthe and his team run SA.
Read Finweek and join the debate.
17 January 2008