Speculation that President Zuma, up for re-election next month as African National Congress president and state president, might face re-instituted charges of corruption is mounting. The picture does not look too good for him, especially if he loses the ANC leadership race. It may also have implications for the country.
This analysis does not weigh the merits of the more than 700 corruption and related charges which were dropped on technical grounds in 2009. It merely analyses the possibility that prosecution could be reopened and the implications of such an eventuality.
How likely are the chances of President Zuma again facing corruption charges?
With less than a month to go to the ANC’s elective conference in Mangaung, Zuma appears to be in a strong position for re-election. The anti-Zuma campaign has lost much of its earlier steam and his main would-be challenger, deputy-president Kgalema Motlanthe, has even at this late stage not given any hint whether he will accept nomination as candidate.
But while his re-election chances look good at present, it is less so in respect of the still looming spectre of corruption charges. There seems to be increasing scope for charges to be reinstated in some or other form. One need only look at some recent developments: The Democratic Alliance are following up an earlier court case they won to compel the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to hand over the record underlying its decision to drop charges against Zuma in 2009.
To date the NPA has not responded and President Zuma’s attorney, Michael Hulley, refuses to release the tapes on confidentiality grounds. A number of legal experts seem to think Hulley has no grounds for his refusal. Importantly the DA has now gone back to court to enforce the earlier court decision. If upheld, it could pave the way for a review of the NPA decision and renewed prosecution.
In the wake of the debate in parliament last week on the controversy surrounding the upgrades of Zuma’s private residential compound at Nkandla, the media returned to the Schabir Shaik corruption trial. Shcaik, Zuma’s erstwhile financial adviser, was jailed for arms deal-related corruption, with the president’s name featuring strongly throughout the trial. City Press newspaper probed claims by President Zuma during the parliamentary debate about a bond on his property. No evidence that such a bond existed could be found, it was reported. The media also pointed out the trial judge’s remarks and testimony during the Schaik trial showing Zuma could not have paid for the building of his Nkandla homestead
This past weekend, The Sunday Times added further fuel to the fire, reporting it obtained more than 300 pages of internal e-mails, memos and minutes of meetings in which it is obvious that all of the NPA’s top prosecutors, except one, supported by independent legal opinion, were overwhelmingly in favour of pressing ahead with the case against President Zuma, dismissing the so-called spy tapes as irrelevant. Just days later, however, acting NPA boss Mpshe ignored their advice and dropped the charges against Zuma, citing the spy tapes as evidence that Zuma was the victim of a plot.
Chief prosecutor at the NPA at the time, Billy Downer, said in internal correspondence that the legal motivation for the decision was "questionable and may be vulnerable on review". It is exactly that review the DA is now seeking.
Since coming to power, Zuma surrounded himself in the state’s criminal justice and security cluster with key appointees considered by many to be his trusted or subservient confidantes. Most had long-standing ties to Zuma in his home base of KwaZulu-Natal or to the ANC’s erstwhile underground structures.
But whether or not this was the deliberate construction of a veil of protection, cracks are fast appearing that would possibly deny Zuma the kind of protection that has been perceived.
Some of the appointees no longer seem to be allies or in any position of influence. In recent times, Zuma has been forced to get rid of some of them, most notably national police commissioner Bheki Cele and NPA head Menzi Simelane. The positions of some others are under pressure too. These developments could diminish any protection he may have been afforded from those quarters, whether intentionally or coincidentally.
If Zuma is not re-elected in Mangaung, renewed prosecution could arguably be more likely. It would at least be easier since he would revert to being a private citizen and a trial would have substantially less impact on the government or the country.
If he should face renewed prosecution as a re-elected president, it could impact enormously on the government and on the country in many ways. For instance, credit rating agencies, already taking a dim view of events in South Africa, could be even more negative in their perception.