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