Zuma is playing a dangerous game

For President Jacob Zuma and his supporters, victory at the ANC’s Polokwane conference was crucial to controlling those levers of state power that would enable the quashing of charges of fraud and corruption against him. The dropping of charges, in turn, was crucial to the durability of both his term in office and a retirement outside jail.

So political pre-eminence mattered not just because it secured the presidency, but also because it secured the president’s person. Or it would, in a less democratically poised constitutional system.

This week we saw as clearly as we have at any point in the decade since we learnt of the Scorpions’ investigation into his activities how the political, legal and underground aspects of Zuma’s battle for personal security seek to tilt the ­balance of that system away from accountability and towards his survival.

This is most clearly evident in the ongoing battle over the review powers of the courts, which remain stubbornly resistant to the kind of leverage that politicians are able to exert over law enforcement agencies, spies and even prosecutors.

Zuma and Justice Minister Jeff Radebe have spent the past month repairing the damage done by Zuma’s suggestion that the powers of the Constitutional Court need to be reconsidered.


The fragile sense of calm they had restored, however, was broken the minute the Supreme Court of Appeal found that the Democratic Alliance has legal standing to get the decision to drop charges against Zuma reviewed.

“It is clear that democracy can be undermined by simply approaching courts to reverse any decision arrived at by a qualified organ of state,” the ANC said in a press statement.

Of course, pressure on the courts was a feature of Zuma’s earlier efforts to get charges dropped and it was in that context that we learnt from Gwede Mantashe that judges were “counter-revolutionaries”.

Never mind all the rhetoric about the need for a more progressive jurisprudence and the perceived obstacles to change laid down by the property rights clause: on the evidence of 2007 and of this week, the party’s position on the judiciary is just as powerfully motivated by Zuma’s desire to stay out of court as it is by larger considerations.

The other crucial battleground in the period before he moved into the Union Buildings was the secret world. The hoax emails scandal, surveillance by the then National Intelligence Agency of Thabo Mbeki’s supporters, the Browse Mole report and, ultimately, the leaking of phone taps that led to the dropping of charges were the work of spy agencies more loyal to their political principals than to the Constitution.

The disciplining of Julius Malema has shored up Zuma’s political position, but he appears to be taking no chances with those dangerous spooks and, as we report this week, is building a ring of secret protection around himself that aims to limit the risks that are not so amenable to party management.

Zuma’s control of the ANC is no doubt the outcome of legitimate politicking, but the twin strategies of manipulating the secret state and delegitimising the courts are deepening the damage to democratic institutions done by both sides on the road to Polokwane. We do not want to travel that route again.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Infrastructure key to economic recovery — Ramaphosa

The governing party wants localisation at the centre of its infrastructure-led strategy

Politicians must be held accountable

Endless, toothless internal integrity committees are not the way out of corruption

Sticks and stones: Qwelane and the violence of words

Constitutional Court justice says homophobic article did not ignite fire of hate against the LGBTI community but added fuel to it

SA must fix its ‘dop system’

The Covid-19 lockdown has exposed the effects of South Africa’s weak alcohol regulations. Government and health campaigners want tougher policies, but the liquor giants are pushing back

Dancing on the grave of Covid?

Lay low for now as lockdown lifts to level one and let’s Jerusalema when the long arm of the law reaches Luthuli House
Advertising

Subscribers only

The shame of 40 000 missing education certificates

Graduates are being left in the lurch by a higher education department that is simply unable to deliver the crucial certificates proving their qualifications - in some cases dating back to 1992

The living nightmare of environmental activists who protest mine expansion

Last week Fikile Ntshangase was gunned down as activists fight mining company Tendele’s expansions. Community members tell the M&G about the ‘kill lists’ and the dread they live with every day

More top stories

Fifteen witnesses for vice-chancellor probe

Sefako Makgatho University vice-chancellor Professor Peter Mbati had interdicted parliament last month from continuing with the inquiry

Constitutional Court ruling on restructuring dispute is good for employers

A judgment from the apex court empowers employers to change their workers’ contracts — without consultation

Audi Q8: Perfectly cool

The Audi Q8 is designed to be the king in the elite SUV class. But is it a victim of its own success?

KZN officials cash in on ‘danger pay for Covid-19’

Leadership failures at Umdoni local municipality in KwaZulu-Natal have caused a ‘very unhappy’ ANC PEC to fire the mayor and chief whip
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday