In Zuma’s Interest for Him to Step Down
The Herald Online
The intrigue and corruption being exposed in connection with South Africa’s multi-billion rand arms deal has all the makings of a rattling good thriller. Perhaps all we are lacking at the moment is a femme fatale.
As with many major scandals it is often almost by chance that the murky behind-the-scenes shenanigans are exposed – and the arms deal is no exception. In this case, a correspondent for an international publication decided to write an article on the companies that had benefited from the sub-contracts.
He went to Richard Young’s company C²I², that it was presumed had won the contract for the combat suite on the corvettes only to discover that this was not the case.
The correspondent contacted a government department whose minister was informed and so the whole sorry saga began to unravel.
As has been reported, a memo sent to the minister actually found its way into the hands of businessman Schabir Shaik and no doubt at some stage how that happened will also be revealed.
(Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille, it should be noted, had nothing to do with this at all.)
While the sub-contract for the combat suite remains the subject of litigation, the spotlight has switched firmly to Deputy President Jacob Zuma, who finds himself in the invidious position of effectively being “tried in absentia”.
National Director of Public Prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka has decided not to prosecute Mr Zuma on the grounds that he does not have a “winnable” case, despite the existence of prima facie evidence against the deputy president. But it is he who will to a considerable extent be the man on trial when Schabir Shaik appears in court.
That Mr Zuma has been badly damaged is without doubt. And it is also pretty certain that he will continue to be further harmed as more and more details are exposed and the trial gets underway.
Much has been said and written about Mr Ngcuka’s decision not to prosecute the deputy president, and it has been noted by academics in the legal field, that this is decidedly unusual, if not irregular. Three points, however, need to be noted in this regard.
First, Mr Ngcuka has made it clear that the deputy president may still be charged. Second, the evidence that is led in court during the trial of Mr Shaik could well provide the information required for a “winnable” case.
Third, bearing in mind that the person involved holds the second highest office in the land, are there not abnormal circumstances that demand that the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions has a decidedly “winnable” case before charges are laid?
Whether those are issues that provide an acceptable rationale for the actions of Mr Ngcuka are obviously debatable. What is not is that to announce that there is prima facie evidence against Mr Zuma and not press charges is to place him in an untenable situation in which he stands accused and is not, at least for the time being, going to be afforded the opportunity to defend himself in a court of law.
If that did not damage Mr Zuma sufficiently, the release of the charge sheet ahead of the trial of Mr Shaik last week certainly did, as it exposed the extent to which the deputy-president had borrowed money from his “friends” to bail him out of a whole range of financial difficulties.
Just what Mr Zuma did with the healthy salary he receives is an open question and has necessarily prompted considerable speculation. For those receiving a pension from the State, it must indeed be a mystery how a man cannot live extremely well on more than R800 000 a year without getting himself hopelessly into debt.
That situation necessarily prompts the question of whether a man who is quite clearly unable to handle his personal finances in a responsible manner should be anywhere near the helm.
And for anyone in public office to be in debt to a private citizen – let alone one seeking government contracts – whatever the circumstances, is at best very unwise if not foolhardy.
Given the manner in which Mr Zuma handles his personal finances, it would be extremely rash to bet on the chances of his being able to repay the debts to Mr Shaik and Durban businessman Vivian Reddy.
There has also been considerable speculation as to whether there is a political motive behind the way in which the allegations against Mr Zuma have been handled.
It is well known, if not officially acknowledged, that President Thabo Mbeki was keen to have IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi as deputy president but that he declined.
Mr Zuma was therefore second choice and it is extremely doubtful if it was ever intended that he succeed Mr Mbeki. But does that necessarily mean there is a political motive behind the manner in which the deputy president is being treated?
He was already under a cloud over allegations that he solicited a bribe of R500 000 in connection with the arms deal and even if he had been put on trial and acquitted he would have been politically seriously damaged. Add to that the fact that it is not likely that such a case would have been finalised before the next election, leaving the deputy president in a not dissimilar position to that in which he currently finds himself.
Apart from that it is the president’s sole prerogative to appoint his deputy and the members of his cabinet, and the ANC has stressed repeatedly that position within the ANC is not linked to position in government. In other words, the fact that Mr Zuma is deputy president of the ANC does not guarantee him that position in government.
If there is a political and international dimension to the Zuma affair, it perhaps lies in the fact that a powerful message will be sent both to the international community and the rest of Africa if the ruling party is prepared to allow its deputy-president to be publicly roasted and possibly put on trial for corruption.
That is, after all, the standard President Mbeki wants to see set in Africa.
The final issue concerns what Mr Zuma should do.
The ANC is correct when it says he is entitled to the presumption of innocence. He is, after all, a citizen of this country and entitled to all the rights of a citizen, irrespective of the position he holds.
But that said, surely we cannot continue with the current situation in which, as more and more details are revealed, Mr Zuma is increasingly rendered a lame duck on the one hand and an embarrassment on the other? Surely it is in his own interests, as well as those of the country, to step down?
With acknowledgement to Patrick Cull and The Herald Online.