AFRICANGLOBE – Jacob Zuma, president of South Africa, suffered a court defeat on Thursday that could open the way for more than 700 corruption charges against him to be reinstated.
The decision, after a five-year legal battle, is a setback for Zuma, who is already besieged by criticism over taxpayer-funded upgrades of his private residence and concerns over his health.
South Africa’s supreme court of appeal dismissed Zuma’s bid to block the release of the so-called “spy tapes” containing conversations that were used as grounds to drop fraud and corruption allegations against him shortly before he became president in 2009. The tapes were said to reveal a political conspiracy against Zuma before a crucial African National Congress conference in 2007, where he defeated sitting president Thabo Mbeki in a bitter leadership struggle. They are said to show evidence of collusion between the former heads of an elite police unit and the national prosecuting authority to manipulate the prosecutorial process – though some are sceptical of the claim.
The White opposition Democratic Alliance applied for access to the recordings and, despite winning previous court cases, could not obtain them. Zuma’s legal team had argued that the DA would use them against him for political gain. The latest court ruling means they must be handed to the DA in the next five days.
Helen Zille, the leader of the DA, hailed it as a victory for democracy: “Through five years and six court applications we have said: Give us the tapes. Give us the records showing why the decision was made for charges on over 700 counts of corruption against Jacob Zuma to be withdrawn, clearing the way for him to become president.
“And today the courts have answered our call. It is, in fact, the call of all South Africans for accountability, and equality before the law.”
The recordings have to be provided, along with internal memoranda, reports and minutes of meetings dealing with the contents of the recordings. If they do not contain evidence of an anti-Zuma conspiracy, as has been claimed, the DA could seek to revive the corruption charges against the president.
Zizi Kodwa, national spokesperson of the ANC, said only: “We trust that today’s outcome will bring the matter closer to finality.”
The president, who won re-election in May with a reduced majority, is also dogged by a long-running controversy over the spending of 246m rand (£13.7m) of taxpayers’ money on his homestead in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal province. There was unprecedented chaos in the South African parliament last week when the Economic Freedom Fighters party chanted: “Pay back the money!”
An independent watchdog, public protector Thuli Madonsela, has criticised Zuma’s response to her report on Nkandla as unsatisfactory, triggering a war of words with the ANC. Former apartheid dictator FW de Klerk this week joined the criticism. “I think he should either comply or alternatively he will continue to do damage to the ANC, and the ANC will have to deal with the problems it’s causing them,” he told reporters.
“Because once again, it’s not only people who didn’t vote for the ANC who are concerned about this. I’m convinced that a substantial percentage of those who voted for the ANC are as upset about Nkandla as the rest.”
De Klerk added: “I think a change of leadership in the ANC at this stage can be good for the country, but I don’t want to play the man. We don’t know who we’ll get if he goes.”
Apartheid South Africa’s last White dictator predicted that in the longer term the ANC itself will fracture. “What is beginning to happen is a split in the ANC alliance. It’s inevitable that it has to take place. People who believe in the free market and people who are communists and believe in a far-left, hardline socialism can’t forever stay together.
“They’re on conflicting courses in their thoughts and their philosophies. They are together in the ANC alliance … A split will occur, and the country needs that split – as far as I’m concerned – the sooner the better so that we can normalise our party political dispensation, so that it will be based more on values and on policies rather than on race and historical alliances.”
Zuma, 72, was hospitalised after this year’s election, officially owing to exhaustion, though media reports in South Africa claimed he suffers a heart condition, diabetes and high blood pressure. A statement by his office said he is currently on a six-day trip to Moscow holding “low-key meetings” and using “the period to rest”.
If Zuma comes to be seen as a political liability, the party could turn against him ahead of local elections in 2016. Veteran journalist and commentator Allister Sparks wrote on Wednesday: “I smell a grassroots revolt in the offing and venture to predict that Zuma will be gone before those elections.”
By: David Smith