Move to charge Zuma

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is preparing the ground for charges against Deputy President Jacob Zuma, and President Thabo Mbeki is ready to announce his decision on Zuma’s future. But they may both hold their fire until the appeal process in the trial of Schabir Shaik is concluded.

Mbeki returned from Chile on Thursday to a political landscape cut across by complex divisions over Zuma, and an increasingly vocal lobby in his support.

The president wants to act, officials close to him say, but he may have to wait until the legal process has run its final lap.

Meanwhile, it is reliably understood that prosecutors have already forwarded a preliminary report on the implications of the judgement, including the question of charges against Zuma, to National Director of Public Prosecution Vusi Pikoli.

Some NPA officials say that while they want Zuma charged soon, they believe they will have more scope for action after the issue of a possible appeal has been settled. Judge Hillary Squires is due to hear Shaik’s application on July 26 in the Durban High Court.

NPA spokesperson Makhosini Nkosi would only say that Pikoli would study the Shaik judgement and thereafter make any decisions that might be necessary.

Pikoli has been in Chile with Mbeki, a trip he was not originally scheduled to make, says a source in the Scorpions, but it is unclear whether they discussed the trial.

The investigation team always felt that Zuma should be tried together with Shaik, and this was its original recommendation to then national director of public prosecutions, Bulelani Ngcuka, who decided to charge only Shaik.

Within both the African National Congress and the Presidency there is a view that the success of Zuma’s campaign to build support in ANC branches, Parliament and the union movement constrains Mbeki considerably.
According to this analysis, he has had to allow the legal process to unfold — and may have to wait for Shaik’s appeal — so that he has a rock-solid basis for the dismissal of his deputy.

He would not, they say, want to create the appearance that he had been pushed into the decision by the media and other forces seen as hostile to the party. “The ANC does not take decisions on the basis of pressure because it does not like to be seen to be succumbing to public pressure,” one ANC provincial secretary told the Mail & Guardian.

Zuma’s backers within the party say his political future will be far from settled even if Mbeki strips him of his Cabinet post immediately.

While Zuma supporters we spoke to are resigned to his possible dismissal, they believe that they will ultimately triumph by using party structures to keep their candidate on course for election as president of the ANC at the next national conference in 2007.

The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal has already declared its complete confidence in Zuma. Limpopo secretary general Cassel Mathane agrees: “The ANC cannot dictate to the president the composition of his Cabinet,” he says, “but we will keep him as ANC deputy president because he has not been convicted, and there are no questions over his position. He was elected, and only those who elected him can decide his fate.”

While those who support Mbeki on this issue have kept their heads down — at least in public — it is clear than any attempt to challenge or embarrass Mbeki will be resisted.

Several provincial ANC leaders told the M&G that party discipline will prevail once Mbeki lays down the law.

If he fires Zuma, leaders will be expected to explain his decision to branches. They point out that ANC leadership has pushed through unpopular decisions before, including the adoption of the growth employment and redistribution strategy, the expulsion of Bantu Holomisa, and the decision to end the armed struggle, which exposed huge differences between leaders and Umkhonto weSizwe fighters.

A formidable set of forces is arrayed behind Zuma — a union movement anxious that it will lose its main champion in Cabinet; a large group of bankbench MPs led by ANC chief whip Mbulelo Goniwe; and most of the regional structures of the party.

But those who believe he should be dismissed argue that once Mbeki has made his position clear, the picture will change.

Already there are deep fractures in the union movement and the Communist Party. And when Zuma was greeted with cheers and song in Parliament on Wednesday, no Cabinet ministers entered the chamber.

When the front benches did fill, their occupants did not join in any of the heckling that ordinarily accompanies questions to the deputy president.

Staff of some of the most influential ministers say privately that Mbeki will be backed to the hilt by some of the ANC’s most popular figures if he fires Zuma.

But given the intense political heat, much will depend on the final stages of the legal process.

Judge Squires’s judgement will have strengthened the original view that Shaik and Zuma should have been charged together. But the prosecution will face a much tougher battle to get the mountain of documents seized from Shaik and from French arms company Thomson CSF admitted in a case against Zuma.

The encrypted fax, which ties Zuma to a bribe agreement with Shaik and Thomson, would be admissable against Zuma on the same grounds as it was against Shaik, as one of the exceptions to the rule against the admission of hearsay evidence.

Generally, documents can be excluded if their authors cannot be cross-examined on their contents. However, in the Shaik case, the state made use of the surrounding documents to argue for the admission of the fax.

These documents were, for the most part, automatically admissable against Shaik, but in any case against Zuma would likely be the subject of a marathon page-by-page legal battle.

Judge Squires said at the conclusion of sentencing that the legal journey of a thousand miles was over. That is now far from clear.

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