/ 4 February 2008

Zille: Mbeki must save democracy in SA

President Thabo Mbeki must save democracy in South Africa by speaking out against the collapse of the boundary between party and state when he makes his State of the Nation address on Friday, Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Helen Zille said.

”Mbeki will go down in history as the president who started undermining South Africa’s Constitution and democracy, until he rises to the occasion on Friday,” Zille said at a Johannesburg press conference on Monday.

The opposition party wants Mbeki to announce that the government will defend the Scorpions and oppose their absorption by the police, appoint people to state institutions based on ability rather than party loyalty and resist attempts by the party to make the judiciary accountable to it.

He must review the rules that allow the Speaker of the National Assembly, Baleke Mbete, to hold high political office in the ruling party (the party’s secretary general) as well as reject proposals to establish a media tribunal, and change the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s (SABC) funding formula.

Upping the SABC’s funding from less than 5% to a proposed 62% would turn it into a mouthpiece for the African National Congress, Zille warned.

Mbeki must also appoint a judicial commission of inquiry with full powers of subpoena to investigate the arms deal, which is ”bleeding South Africa”.

South Africa had entered a phase of deep anxiety about the future with indications that it could develop into a full-blown constitutional crisis, and Mbeki must take steps to reverse the trends.

”Like [former] president [FW] De Klerk of old, president Mbeki must admit that his party and his government got it wrong,” she said.

De Klerk was the head of the last government that led South Africa by white minority rule.

Zille described the party’s ”national democratic revolution” policy as ”a recipe for failure” because the party believed it must control all the institutions of state.

The crisis at Eskom and the appointment of Jackie Selebi, who faces corruption charges as police national commissioner, were examples of why the party’s policy of deploying members without relevant experience did not work.

Referring to recent criticism of Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, she said: ”We want to hear from the president on Friday that judicial independence is sacrosanct.”

She said state institutions were now fair game for politicians that felt threatened and the party’s campaign against the Scorpions was driven by their investigation into nine of its national executive committee members, including its president, Jacob Zuma, who faces a fraud and corruption trial.

Asked whether she thought Mbeki would heed the DA’s advice, she said: ”I wish I could say yes, but I fear not. I think he is a lonely man, and I don’t even believe he will want to do it. I believe that he believes in the NDR and is wondering how it got hijacked.”

Mbeki was not re-elected as head of the ANC at the party’s conference in Polokwane in December and there has reportedly between friction between himself and Zuma over ”two centres of power”. — Sapa