The Nkandla Mafia is coming

A Zuma supporter who was outside the country this week asked me what was happening when I phoned him on Tuesday.

It was the day of the formal withdrawal of charges in the Durban High Court and just after I had listened to Jacob Zuma’s predictably self-serving statements about his “innocence”.

“The victors are very busy rewriting history,” I told him. And, I added, I had seen nothing that dissuaded me from my original thesis—shared with him some years before—that in Zuma’s victory over Thabo Mbeki we were simply exchanging one Mafia for another.

“I hope you prove me wrong,” I said. “But I don’t expect it.”

Zuma’s assertions that “there never was a case against me” and that the media and others are guilty of abusing the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” are myths that he has succeeded in inserting deep into our political discourse.

The very claim that there is now “evidence” proving the conspiracy against Zuma contradicts those notions.
Meanwhile, incompetent and corrupt officials across the land will have learned the value of hanging on while marshalling every legal and political strategem to delay the process and block the evidence against them.

As others have pointed out, the presumption of innocence is a legal construct, not a social or political one. Just as it would be wrong to assume guilt without evidence, it is socially and politically stupid to disregard evidence of guilt simply because it has never been tested in court.

More importantly, the victor’s version of the history of the past 10 years is going to obscure the reality that what we have been subjected to is a vicious power struggle between different factions of the ruling party—and that neither side has shrunk from suborning public institutions (including the media) to achieve their ends.

In the first place, Zuma’s freedom has been bought by access to surveillance tapes that, in the absence of any explanation, can only have been obtained illegally. Yet the National Prosecuting Authority has decided that its case has been tainted by an abuse of process by Scorpions boss Leonard McCarthy and former national director of public prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka. In effect they are saying: the end cannot justify unlawful means.

In his fight-back campaign Zuma has clearly not felt himself bound by similar strictures. I see no reason to think this will change when he is in government—despite his platitudes about the need to ensure that no institutions “become so powerful that neither Parliament, the executive nor the judiciary can address their excesses”.

The fact is that Mbeki embarked on a fundamental corruption of our public institutions by packing them with “loyal cadres”. But it is a corruption that the ANC, including Zuma, allowed to happen - indeed championed. Zuma did not stand up for the independence of scientific institutions when Mbeki embarked on his HIV-denialist rampage; Zuma did not back the standing committee on public accounts when Mbeki blocked a proper probe of the arms deal—on the contrary he signed a poisonous Mbeki letter condemning Scopa and allowed it to be issued in his name.

Instead, Zuma concentrated on mobilising his own set of loyal cadres - in the intelligence services, in the ANC, in the judiciary, in the office of the public protector and in the ranks of former apartheid agents now running as guns for hire.

And he probably had a hand in the leaking of the notorious letter to him penned by Winnie Mandela in which she launched an attack on Mbeki’s womanising—which really ignited the war with Mbeki.

What this whole saga should have taught us is that means matter greatly; that truly independent institutions and individuals are democratically priceless.
But Zuma has permitted an unrestrained political assault on the independence of the NPA and the judiciary; he has countenanced a “counterconspiracy” in the ranks of the intelligence services.

He has permitted the removal of Vusi Pikoli, a man who had demonstrated his willingness to stand by his professional independence under the most intense pressure.

Zuma should be given credit for ridding us of Mbeki—though he only did it when his back was against the wall. And of course the abuses of the “Xhosa Nostra” and their fellow travellers should be investigated.

But in dropping the case against Zuma, the NPA has condemned us to the pursuit of Ngcuka, McCarthy and others in the artificial glare of Zuma’s “innocence”.

So watch out. The Nkandla Mafia is coming.

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