Publication: The Natal Witness Issued: Date: 2004-10-11 Reporter: Gert Coetzee

Presidency Linked to Trial Outcome



The Natal Witness

Date 2004-10-11


Gert Coetzee

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Better known as JZ, Zuma defined it best last Tuesday in Port Elizabeth. "I hope this is the last time for me to appear in court without me appearing in court."

Although Zuma is not a defendant, his presence in the Durban High Court today will undoubtedly be felt.

No one will look at Schabir Shaik, who is also referred to as SS, in the dock - on two counts of corruption and one of fraud - without noticing Zuma's shadow at his side.

A participant in a discussion on the University of Cape Town's www.webforum. puts it as follows: "The prosecutors will focus on Shaik's alleged affairs with Zuma. If Shaik is found guilty, it will be because he bribed Zuma. So Zuma, even though he is not on trial, will implicitly be guilty of accepting bribe money."

But the case and its implications for Zuma's candidacy for president are not so simple.

Two political commentators, Professor Andr? Duvenhag? of the University of the Free State and Jonathan Faull of Idasa, point out that it must first be kept in mind that Zuma has not been charged with anything.

Faull says: "The Scorpions argue that he can be charged, but nothing has come of these threats, besides, of course, what is to come from the Shaik case."

Duvenhag? says: "Despite the fact that corruption and bribery allegations have been doing the rounds for many years, it can at best be regarded as untried information. Our country's legal processes have the last word here. The perspective should be: innocent until proven otherwise."

Duvenhag? believes, however, that corruption and bribery allegations will not be forgotten in the South African political environment with its own conflict, self-interest, instability and even crime.

"It is definitely ammunition in the hands of those who have an eye on the presidency and/or have an axe to grind, for whatever reason, with the deputy president.

"Little doubt exists that the allegations have already damaged the deputy president's political image and his chances to be appointed as the next president," says Duvenhag?

Daniel Pienaar, a political researcher at the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), says that regardless of Zuma's statements, the fact that he has a four-person legal team at the hearing indicates that he or his supporters are aware of the damage the bad publicity is doing to his image.

Faull is of the opinion that, regardless of the cloud of suspicion over Zuma the past three years, ever since Patricia de Lille's allegations surfaced about the involvement of the presidency in corruption surrounding the arms scandal, Zuma has emerged "relatively unscathed politically".

"JZ proved these past three years that he can hang in there and can resist pressure from the media and the public. He fights back with the help of his allies in the ANC alliance and the media. The Hefer Commission put these kinds of inner-chamber manoeuvres in the limelight."

Faull points out that although Zuma has not been charged, his name occurs on the charge sheet numerous times. "In essence, the charges against SS concern an incongruous relationship with a public official, and this official is JZ. If SS is found guilty, the implication is that it takes two people for this tango.

"But the opposite is that SS could be found innocent. In this case, their relationship is above board. Both men will then be able to resume their careers in peace."

There is also a whole range of possible verdicts between "guilty" and "innocent".

"Shaik may only be found guilty on some of the charges. It could also be that he is found technically innocent, but that the judge says that he acted contrary to the spirit of the law and the constitution.

"All these possibilities hold different potential implications for SS and JZ.

"With regards to JZ and his succession of the president, the most important thing is that politics is about perceptions and not about the law. If he is found guilty in one way or the other, he will lose his public official status.

"If not well, many political officials have shown that people can be forgiving and pardoning.

"Besides, in politics, the succession battle will depend on people's perceptions of Zuma. It won't be a choice of national democracy but one that will be forged by the ANC's internal guiding process.

"Some people can take a specific stand, but the ANC-South African Communist Party-Cosatu alliance's stand on the presidency will be key."

Duvenhag? points out that the image of the South African government in certain circles is that of a "soft state", which handles issues such as illegal immigration, crime, corruption and nepotism with soft hands.

"This image has been reinforced by the approach to the alleged fraud with parliamentary travel benefits.

"If this is how the ANC works with normal MPs, how will it handle an extremely influential leader like Jacob Zuma?"

Pienaar said one possible perspective is that people will question Zuma's "judgment rather than his character". They will ask whether the eventual consequences correspond with the intention of his actions.

Faull believes the extremely complicated court case makes things even more difficult. "There are 105 witnesses, some more relevant than others. With such a long list of witnesses, the chance of inconsequentiality becomes so much greater. This, in turn, influences the chance on a verdict above all reasonable doubt.

"The judge will naturally ask questions about all unclear aspects. The prosecution will have to piece together all these vague areas, while the defence will all the while try and cast suspicion over them."

Pienaar also feels that it is becoming all the more unlikely that Mbeki, who takes good management and clean government to heart, will support Zuma as his successor.

Duvenhag? says Zuma's popularity should not be underestimated. "He is a very influential and popular leader in the ANC, especially among the youth, populist groups such as Cosatu and the SACP, and in certain provinces, especially the Free State."

With acknowledgements to Gert Coetzee and The Natal Witness.