Dropping corruption charges against African National Congress (ANC) leader Jacob Zuma does not amount to an acquittal, acting National Director of Public Prosecutions Mokotedi Mpshe said on Monday.
Delivering the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA) decision to drop charges against Zuma, Mpshe said it had been the most difficult decision of his life.
The charges were dropped because there had been an abuse of process by the former head of the Directorate of Special Operations (DSO), Leonard McCarthy.
The decision was not based on the actual merits of the case, Mpshe said.
”It does not amount to an acquittal …
”Mr McCarthy’s conduct offends one’s sense of justice. It would be unfair as well as unjust to continue with the prosecution.”
At the heart of the misconduct is the timing in which the NPA charged Zuma.
”Any timing of the charging of an accused person, which is not aimed at serving a legitimate purpose, is improper, irregular and an abuse of process.
”It is not so much the prosecution itself that is tainted but the legal process.”
He said the prosecution team had acted properly, honestly and fairly throughout.
However, the NPA, as guardians of the Constitution, could not see its way clear to continue the prosecution.
There was no chance that the NPA would re-charge Zuma.
”From the NPA, this is it, there will be no further prosecution,” said Advocate Sibongile Mnzinyathi, acting head of the DSO.
Zuma had been notified of the decision at 10am on Monday.
He watched the live announcement from his home in Forest Town, Johannesburg.
Bodyguards stood outside his home as well-wishers came and left.
ANC treasurer-general Mathews Phosa, leaving the Zuma home said: ”He’s at home, he’s relaxing, we just came to see him.”
Zuma chose to be at home during the announcement, while his supporters gathered at the Mary Fitzgerald Square to celebrate the end of his legal woes.
The NPA and Zuma will now have to return to court where the charges will be formally withdrawn.
It is not known when that will happen.
A press briefing would be held later where the ANC would comment on the matter.
Mpshe quoted from telephone recordings between former NPA head Bulelani Ngcuka and McCarthy, discussing the timing of re-charging Zuma.
These conversations happened shortly before the ANC’s Polokwane conference in December 2007, when Zuma was elected the new leader of the ANC.
The transcripts of the phone conversations had been declassified by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) for Mpshe to make it public on Monday.
Mpshe described McCarthy’s actions as an ”abuse of process”.
But Mpshe was quick to add that there was no conclusive evidence of former president Thabo Mbeki being involved in the decision to charge Zuma with fraud and corruption charges.
”We could not find any trace that the [former] president was involved,” said Mpshe.
This was after he read from transcripts of phone conversations between McCarthy and Ngcuka, who at one stage said to McCarthy, ”you made my day”, after finding out that Zuma would be recharged.
Mpshe said: ”… it would be unfair as well as unjust to continue with the prosecution.”
NPA deputy national director Willie Hofmeyr added: ”It was simply not possible for us to proceed given the manipulation of the process.”
The announcement paves the way for Zuma to become South Africa’s next president without the prospect of impending prosecution.
Zuma was facing 16 charges linked to a multibillion-rand government arms deal, including one of racketeering, one of money-laundering, two of corruption and 12 of fraud.
Mpshe’s announcement ends a long legal battle between the authority and the ruling party’s presidential candidate.
It follows weeks of media reports that the charges would be dropped.
In August 2003, Ngcuka announced that Zuma’s former financial adviser Schabir Shaik would be charged with corruption and fraud, adding that though there was a prima facie case against Zuma, the NPA would not be charging him because it did not believe the case was winnable.
Zuma cried foul, claiming a political conspiracy aimed at derailing his bid to succeed Mbeki in the presidency, an assertion he has maintained ever since.
Shaik went on trial a year later, and in June 2005 was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Just less than two weeks later Mbeki sacked Zuma from the deputy presidency, naming Ngcuka’s wife Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka in his place, and a week after that the NDPP announced it was going to prosecute Zuma for alleged corruption.
He was then charged but the case was struck off the role.
After addressing the ANC as its president for the first time in 2007, Zuma was served with an indictment by the NPA ordering him to appear in court on August 4 2008.
Following an application by his lawyers, on September 12 2008 in the Durban High Court, Judge Chris Nicholson ruled the State’s decision to prosecute him was unlawful because the State had failed to take representation from Zuma.
The ruling was seen as a vindication for the ANC president as the judge in his ruling said the former deputy president was not wrong to infer a political conspiracy against him.
In January this year, the Supreme Court of Appeal upheld an appeal by the NDPP against Nicholson’s ruling.
The criminal charges against Zuma were then reinstated.
The NPA dropping the charges means that Zuma is to become president after the April 22 elections, he will no longer have the charges hanging over his head.
Meanwhile, former prosecutions boss Bulelani Ngcuka had no immediate comment after the decision to stop the prosecution against Zuma was announced.
”I would like to study the statement before I give my view,” he said.
A victory of politics over justice
Opposition parties said on Monday the NPA’s decision to drop charges against Zuma marked a victory of politics over justice.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) vowed not to let the matter rest, while the United Democratic Movement (UDM) called the widely expected withdrawal of charges the culmination of a campaign by the ANC to reduce South Africa to a banana republic.
”It is a shameful day in our country’s history,” UDM leader Bantu Holomisa said.
”People must brace themselves, our justice system is crumbling. To remedy this situation the voters need to express their disgust at the polls.
”This is the culmination of the campaign of the dodgy characters in the ANC to reduce this country to a banana republic — people must remember that a vast number of NEC [national executive council] members have faced or are facing charges,” Holomisa said.
The justice system had been sacrificed on the altar of political expedience, he added, and called on senior NPA staff to resign.
”It is a bad day for the NPA. Contrary to their desire to ingratiate themselves with the incoming executive, it would be far better for the leadership of the NPA to vacate their positions, because they will never be trusted again by the average South African.”
DA leader Helen Zille said the NPA had been manipulated by the Zuma faction within the ANC and indicated her party was considering the possibility of a private prosecution.
”We are not going to let the matter lie down. We are consulting for legal advice,” Zille told reporters outside the NPA office in Pretoria, where delighted ANC supporters waved Zuma posters.
The Congress of the People’s (Cope) presidential candidate, Mvume Dandala, said the NPA’s allegations of behind-the-scenes manipulation of the case by allies of former president Thabo Mbeki needed to be tested in court.
”The confidence in the justice system has been eroded,” said Dandala.
Mbeki’s spokesperson Mukoni Ratshitanga said he did not want to comment on the decision.
”The NPA came to a determination as the body — by law — which is supposed to make such a decision, and made a decision,” Ratshitanga said.
Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi said it is unfortunate that Zuma will not have his day in court.
Buthelezi said he had repeatedly called for Zuma to have his day in court to clear his name of the serious allegations against him.
”I feel the charges will now be a shadow over him as our [next] head of state.
”The consequences of [Monday’s] decision for South Africa will damage our country’s image and the decision is bound to affect the reputation and credibility of our country, both nationally and internationally, especially in light of Schabir Shaik’s conviction on the basis of his friendship with Mr Zuma,” he said.
”I would also like to raise my concern with Mr Zuma’s media trial that made today’s decision no great surprise,” said Buthelezi.
”The public knew the outcome last week as the headlines declared ”Zuma is Free” even before the NPA declared it.
”Justice has been compromised every step of the way. Now we will have to face the consequences,” Buthelezi said.
Independent Democrats (ID) leader Patricia de Lille described the NPA’s decision as ”disgusting”.
”This is sad. Hard work of 10 years has been thrown away,” said De Lille.
The decision had nothing to do with the charges against Zuma, she told reporters outside the NPA office in Pretoria.
The NPA did not consider the merits of the case, De Lille said.
”The first casualty is the principle of all are equal before the law.”
De Lille said the move to drop charges was ”disgusting” because the NPA took over the role of the courts in its decision.
President Kgalema Motlanthe did not reappoint axed NPA head Vusi Pikoli because it would have been difficult to ”twist his hand”, she added.
De Lille said opposition parties were considering whether to work together in possible legal action against the decision but that she was still waiting for advice from her lawyers.
Zuma supporters celebrate
Meanwhile, small groups of party supporters celebrated on the streets of Johannesburg, Durban and Port Elizabeth.
There were scenes of joy in the streets of Durban on Monday.
A small group of people wearing ANC T-shirts gathered at Durban’s Anton Lembede Street just minutes after the announcement was made, and the group quickly grew to more than 100 people.
Singing Zuma wethu (our Zuma), the crowd jubilantly ran in the streets before gathering outside the City Hall for celebrations.
The majority of people interviewed said they were happy with the decision not to continue with the corruption charges against Zuma.
”It is good for South Africa. We will now be able to move on because this matter has been giving us a headache for a long time,” said Bright Nyuswa.
The ANC spokesperson in the Eastern Cape, Mcebisi Jonas, said a special celebration was planned when Zuma visited Mthatha on Tuesday and Port Alfred on Wednesday.
”The people in the Eastern Cape are elated at this decision,” Jonas said. — Sapa