South Africa: Political Solution Unlikely With Zuma
Business Day (Johannesburg)
1 September 2008
Posted to the web 1 September 2008
THE debate about whether some kind of "political solution" is required for ANC president Jacob Zuma's legal problems is intriguing because it's such an exquisitely cruel dilemma.
If a "political solution" is found, then the rule of law is undermined, criminality is effectively endorsed at the highest level, SA's standing in the world will suffer, and our politics will be reduced to a kind of "might is right" debasement.
Yet to not develop a "political solution" would put the ANC inevitably on a collision course with the judiciary, which ultimately the party will win. So once again, the rule of law will be undermined, but this time not conceptually, but actually. And in this case, not concerning a single person, but a long-term weakening of the entire system, because that would be the only way the party would achieve its goal. You can already see this process underway with the ANC's despicable destruction of the Scorpions.
The sheer awfulness of both options has got people, particularly in business, thinking about a middle path of some sort. Hence there has been much discussion about what such a "political solution" would contain -- and perhaps more importantly what it would not contain.
Some of the outer markers of what this "political solution" would entail have been spelt out in various publications over the past few weeks. Businessman Peter Vundla noted in yesterday's Business Times that whatever solution was devised it had to be "credible and acceptable to the broad majority of our people and to the international community".
Yet Business Unity SA president Brian Molefe, who also heads the Public Investment Corporation, appeared to lean toward a legal solution rather than a political one.
"If we have constitutional democracy with the rule of law then surely we must wait for the courts to finalise their processes," Molefe told Business Times. "I can't see how any politician can intervene."
Personally, this approach sounds the more correct to me. I suspect, if South Africa starts bending the rules now at this early stage of its development as a democratic country, then we are just inviting the slow descent into moral relativism.
The claim of political leaders that the country will "descend into anarchy" if Zuma goes to trial is such an obvious attempt at mass extortion for political purposes, a form of Machiavellian politics at which the ANC is becoming adept.
If that would be the result, which I doubt, then perhaps a little anarchy for a while would be worth it just to demonstrate where the boundaries actually lie.
But I'm constrained from being totally unbending on the issue because of two different incidents I experienced as a reporter for Business Day.
The first was the Schabir Shaik trial, which I covered with some of my colleagues from this newspaper. The trial was interesting for what it revealed first and foremost about Shaik's nefarious business dealings. But the elephant in the room was of course Zuma since a successful prosecution of Shaik naturally increased the chances of Zuma himself being prosecuted.
But throughout the trial it became increasingly apparent that Zuma's participation in all of Shaik's fabulous schemes and plans was rather offhand - perhaps deliberately so. The trial did not, to my mind, suggest that Zuma was demonstrably an out and out crook, but rather that he was slyly manipulated by a rather canny and ambitious businessman.
The enormous control that Shaik exercised over Zuma's finances was demonstrated by the strange incident involving a million rand that was given to Zuma by none other than our sainted previous president Nelson Mandela. Zuma never got a chance to spend a cent of this donation as it was whipped out of his account by Shaik to settle some other debts.
I could be totally wrong about this, and Zuma could have been much more knowingly involved, which is why a Zuma trial would be so interesting. But in all honesty, Zuma emerged from the Shaik trial more dysfunctional and careless about his finances than hopelessly immoral.
Another issue that arose only obliquely in the trial was Zuma's actual role in the arms deal. It appeared in one document in the case that the French had sought and obtained a meeting with President Thabo Mbeki during the final stages of the bidding process. This is the meeting about which Mbeki conveniently cannot recall anything, and it must be said, what appeared from the documents is rather inconclusive.
But, circumstantially, it seems the meeting was designed to get political authorisation for Shaik's participation in the French contracts. If this is true, it reflects terribly on Mbeki, but actually, doesn't say that much about Zuma.
What actually happened we will probably never know, but whatever the case, you can understand why Zuma is so angry that he is taking the heat for the arms deal, while others much more integrally involved seem to have escaped censure.
So chalk a few points up in Zuma's column.
But there was another incident I experienced as a reporter that would suggest a demerit would be appropriate too.
Someone integrally interested in the case told me that the Scorpions were considering offering Zuma a plea bargain. So naturally I asked the Scorpions this question. They answered, off the record, that they would if they thought Zuma would accept it. But as they were convinced he would not accept it, even if it meant he would face a plea so light it would not affect his political career (which they were prepared to offer by the way) they didn't put it on the table.
At this stage, in about 2005, all Zuma needed to do was signal he would be prepared to accept a slap on the wrist and it would have been over. Yet he declined, on the basis that he was totally innocent. However, having claimed he is totally innocent, he has gone to extreme lengths, and taxpayer expense, to stay out of court and to extend the case until after the election next year.
And this is really the problem with the "political solution". Assuming some kind of more or less acceptable "political solution" was contrived, which would necessarily involve Zuma taking some of the blame, someone would still have to convince Zuma it is in his interest to sign up. And on the basis of previous experience, that they would succeed is by no means a certainty.
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