Publication: Mail and Guardian Issued: Date: 2004-10-15 Reporter:

The Ways We Must Leave Behind



Mail and Guardian

Date 2004-10-15


Comment & Analysis

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The trial of Schabir Shaik underscores the fact that we are still in a nation in transition between yesterday and tomorrow. Rich traditions from the liberation struggle will always form part of the South African body politic. But it is now time to leave many ways of the past behind.

He has claimed that the monetary and other gifts to Deputy President Jacob Zuma form part of these bonds - and are therefore beyond reproach and questioning by the courts in 2004. Even in response to attempts to establish how Zuma returned the favours, the subtext of his initial testimony was to ask : "So what?"

In effect, this argument thumbs its nose at the Constitution, which very specifically and deliberately seeks to avoid the conflicts that can arise when politicians become involved in business or have inappropriate relations with businesspeople. Zuma allegedly breached the Chinese wall between the two - but this is glossed over, and South Africans are expected to understand and excuse the lapse because it is how things were done in the good old days. This is one of the practices we must leave behind.

All old struggle relationships which present new conflicts of interests - and there are many more than just that of Zuma and Shaik - must be undone and made to fit into the framework of laws, regulations and codes South Africans forged together to make their democracy clean and transparent. Corrosive practices such as influence-peddling, patronage and rent-seeking have no place in the new order.

There are other ways we must also leave behind. A Markinor survey last week revealed that, in the eyes of a third of our citizens, Zuma's reputation has been undented by the Shaik case. Far more alarmingly, before any evidence has been led in the trial, 38% of South Africans believed he is the victim of a conspiracy.

Over and above Zuma's personal popularity, this indicates the extent of distrust in the institutions of democracy. The Scorpions, for example, face a constant barrage of antagonism, from both inside and outside the African National Congress. Their methods are sometimes questionable, but the agency has undeniably breathed new purpose and commitment into South Africa's fight against crime.

The public reaction to other struggle heroes who went vrot - Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Mzwakhe Mbuli come to mind - highlight the fact that the courts are not yet viewed as independent and trustworthy guardians of the law. In the court of public opinion they and other fallen icons are still viewed as victims of racial injustice.

Such a "rear-view mirror" view of the instruments and institutions of democracy must be discarded. Political education is needed to build their credibility, and to bridge the gulf between the formal courts of law and the court of South African public opinion or else we will live the ways of the old.

With acknowledgement to the Mail & Guardian.