South Africans have a right to know
It is a decade since the Mail & Guardian first revealed that Jacob Zuma was under investigation for corruption and five years since he was elected president of the ANC at Polokwane.
In just over a week, delegates sent to Mangaung by ruling party branches will vote whether or not to retain him in that role, a decision that will determine whether he leads them into the 2014 national election and likely remains president of South Africa until 2019.
It is a grave decision for the party that was central to our liberation from apartheid and what has been a remarkably successful transition to democracy.
We believe it is one that delegates must make with the fullest possible knowledge of each candidate’s suitability for high office.
Zuma and those around him have fought, however, to prevent both the courts and the public from learning the truth about the corruption allegations against him and some of his closest associates.
In the process they have ridden roughshod over the justice system and put at risk the basic institutional framework of democracy, undermining the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the courts and intelligence agencies.
The KPMG report on Zuma’s financial affairs we are reporting on and posting to our website makes it very difficult for him to continue the charade.
It paints the most detailed and distressing picture available of a kept politician, not just unable, but unwilling to live within his means, dependent on an array of benefactors to fund his lifestyle and willing to grant some of them favours in return.
The report also makes it clearer than ever that the 2009 decision to drop criminal charges was political rather than legal.
As the Sunday Times reported a fortnight ago, prosecutors were confident that their case could withstand the “spy tapes” and the claim that some of his political enemies were trying to manage the timing of the charges to his disadvantage.
Reading the report with Judge Hilary Squires’s damning findings in the Schabir Shaik trial, it is hard to disagree with them: the president has an overwhelming case to answer.
His supporters may object that in publishing the report now we are “attempting to influence the outcome of Mangaung”.
We are unabashed, however, in playing what we believe is the proper role of the press—providing the information that enables South Africans to make informed choices in the exercise of their rights.
That has not stopped the state from using every tool at its disposal to impose ignorance.
When this newspaper sought to show how Zuma’s confidant and spokesperson, Mac Maharaj, had lied under oath to investigators, we were threatened with criminal prosecution and, even though we withheld sensitive information pending court permission to release it, the editor and two journalists now face criminal charges.
When the Sunday Times recently sought to publish documents showing how strongly prosecutors had felt about their case against Zuma, it faced an interdict attempt.
The Democratic Alliance won a Supreme Court of Appeal order that the NPA hand over the spy tapes so that their relevance to the legality of the decision to drop charges could be properly tested. Months later, both the prosecuting authority and Zuma’s legal team are seeking ways to avoid compliance.
We are short-circuiting this process of denial, delay and obfuscation by exposing the entire report to public scrutiny.
We are doing so without seeking prior comment from Zuma or others named in it. This is a diversion from our usual practice and it is not one we have undertaken lightly.
The right of reply is an important journalistic principle and we ordinarily offer it in advance of publication.
In this case we have decided instead to offer full right of reply after publication, because it has been our own experience—and that of other newspapers—in dealing with material emanating from the arms deal investigation that an opportunity to comment is treated by the state as an opportunity to prevent publication.
The press code provides that “a publication should seek the views of the subject of serious critical reportage in advance of publication, provided that this need not be done where the publication has reasonable grounds for believing that by doing so it would be prevented from publishing the report, or where evidence might be destroyed or sources intimidated”.
Although we would have preferred to publish comments from those affected with the report, we are convinced that the risk of being prevented from publishing it at all was real.
We are also convinced that the report is a substantial and credible document, based on an assessment of hundreds of thousands of pages of documents obtained by investigating authorities and conducted by experts in forensic accounting.
We invite comment from those implicated by the report itself and will publish it on our website immediately.
Furthermore, we will publish in print and online detailed responses from Zuma and others identified in our reporting if they are forthcoming.
This is what Judge Hilary Squires said at the conclusion of the Shaik trial: “If Zuma could not repay money, how else could he do so than by providing the help of his name and political office as and when it was asked … And Shaik must have foreseen and, by inference, did foresee that if he made these payments Zuma would respond in that way.
“The conclusion that he realised this, even if only after he started the dependency of Zuma upon his contributions, seems to us to be irresistible.”
The KPMG report supplements that inference with fresh evidence for which Jacob Zuma has provided no plausible explanation. He must now do so if he wishes to remain in office and avoid prosecution.
- Should you feel entitled to a right of reply, please email firstname.lastname@example.org