Zuma's Acid Test
The Natal Witness
Deputy President Jacob Zuma is understandably frustrated by the media attention he is receiving as a result of the court case against Schabir Shaik. Why, he asks, should he be appearing in court when he is not appearing in court?
This picturesque question is also naive because although there are at present no charges being levelled against him, he is indelibly linked with the man against whom charges are being laid. The trial that has just begun is receiving maximum public interest precisely because Zuma's name and his political stature in the country are implicated. Indeed, the outcome of the trial will influence and perhaps determine whether or not he remains as a candidate to succeed Thabo Mbeki as president of the ANC and of the nation.
The trial is also likely to shed interesting light on issues within the period of "struggle politics" through which this country passed and the subsequent first decade of a new democratic order. Members of the Shaik family were clearly involved in the pursuit of the liberation agenda. This created close ties between them and others who were similarly involved, but what was to happen when some moved into echelons of government responsibility and others did not?
Did affiliates who had paid the price of a costly struggle for freedom have a legitimate expectation of largesse, such as lucrative business contracts, from the new holders of political power? And were those in positions of government entitled to kickbacks for favours granted?
It is beyond dispute that Shaik became a financial adviser to Jacob Zuma in respect of his personal affairs. He possessed the acumen that Zuma did not. This relationship created the symbiosis, some of whose effects are now on trial as corruption and bribery charges.
One of the major issues facing our new democracy is that government, once it beds down and develops a proper sense of accountability to the people as a whole, should not allow itself to feel indebted in a sycophantic way to individuals who are not part of the formal structures.
The Shaik trial will provide a good barometer reading as to whether or not this has been achieved. It is not only Shaik who is on trial. The integrity of government is under the spotlight.
With acknowledgement to The Natal Witness.