It is time to give Zuma what he’s al­ways wanted — his day in court

Sunday Times - - OPINION -

Shaun Abra­hams has not cov­ered him­self in glory

Af­ter al­most a decade of fight­ing in the courts — and spend­ing mil­lions of tax­pay­ers’ money — Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma and the NPA con­ceded that the 2009 de­ci­sion to drop cor­rup­tion charges against him was ir­ra­tional. The star­tling ad­mis­sion came on the first day of what was sched­uled to be a two-day hear­ing at the Supreme Court of Ap­peal in Bloem­fontein where the NPA and the pres­i­dent had gone to chal­lenge a de­ci­sion by a lower court to set aside then NPA act­ing head Mokotedi Mp­she’s con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion.

That Zuma and the NPA fought for so long not to have Mp­she’s de­ci­sion re­versed, only to give in hours into the SCA’s pro­ceed­ings, shows just how pre­pared the pres­i­dent is to use every trick in the book to de­lay his ap­pear­ance be­fore court to an­swer to more than 700 counts of cor­rup­tion and fraud.

Lest we for­get, al­le­ga­tions of Zuma’s cor­rup­tion date back to the early 2000s, long be­fore he be­came pres­i­dent. In 2005, his al­leged ac­com­plice in these crimes — Sch­abir Shaik — was con­victed, re­sult­ing in the NPA de­cid­ing to also charge Zuma.

How­ever, since then Zuma has em­ployed all le­gal and po­lit­i­cal weapons at his dis­posal to avoid be­ing tried. He is now just two years away from fin­ish­ing his sec­ond and last five-year term as pres­i­dent, and still he has not an­swered to these charges.

While it is hoped that the con­ces­sions made by his team and the NPA in court this week mean that we are get­ting closer to the pres­i­dent hav­ing his day in court — some­thing he used to de­mand while cam­paign­ing to be head of state — it ap­pears that he still has other cards up his sleeve.

His lawyers told the court that he now seeks to make new rep­re­sen­ta­tions to the NPA on why charges against him should not be re­in­stated.

He has every le­gal right to do so, but the NPA should not al­low him to abuse the sys­tem by un­nec­es­sar­ily de­lay­ing the process.

NPA head Shaun Abra­hams, like many of his pre­de­ces­sors, has not cov­ered him­self in glory with this case. Un­der him the NPA seemed re­luc­tant to re­in­state the charges, choos­ing to ap­peal against a court rul­ing that em­pow­ered the pros­e­cut­ing au­thor­ity to do so.

As a ca­reer pros­e­cu­tor, his only in­ter­est should be to see to it that jus­tice is done and that it is seen to be done, and not to act as if he has been put in the post to pro­tect the pres­i­dent.

A num­ber of his pre­de­ces­sors, in­clud­ing Mp­she, left the job with their rep­u­ta­tions in tat­ters be­cause of de­ci­sions they took that were seen as help­ing Zuma avoid fac­ing a judge on cor­rup­tion charges.

For Abra­hams not to suf­fer the same fate as his pre­de­ces­sors, and if the NPA is to re­gain its rep­u­ta­tion as a fiercely in­de­pen­dent body, he had bet­ter start be­hav­ing as a na­tional di­rec­tor of pub­lic prose­cu­tions should.

It is the Zuma case, more than any other, that has un­der­mined the NPA’s rep­u­ta­tion over the years and it is this case, if han­dled pro­fes­sion­ally and im­par­tially, that can help re­store the au­thor­ity’s im­age as an ef­fec­tive in­sti­tu­tion.

The de­lay­ing tac­tics Zuma has em­ployed over the years might have helped him avoid be­com­ing the first South African sit­ting head of state to face crim­i­nal charges, but he should have known that his cards would even­tu­ally run out.

In­stead of think­ing of new ways of stay­ing away from the courts, he and his lawyers should be pre­par­ing them­selves for a trial where he would fi­nally be able to clear his name, just as he claimed he wanted to do when the whole saga be­gan back in the early 2000s. If he is in­deed in­no­cent of the charges, the courts will find in his favour. South Africa has been held hostage by the le­gal drama sur­round­ing this case for too long; it is time it is set­tled once and for all.

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