ANC youth lobby for immunity for Zuma

Youth League leader Mzwandile Masina says indemnity will help leaders leave office when their terms are up. (David Harrison, M&G)

Youth League leader Mzwandile Masina says indemnity will help leaders leave office when their terms are up. (David Harrison, M&G)

ANC Youth League leader Mzwandile Masina is lobbying for a law that would ­guarantee ­immunity from prosecution for President Jacob Zuma and future presidents after they leave office.

His fear, and that of his allies within the party, is that Zuma may be targeted by local courts and the International Criminal Court (ICC) for incidents such as the Marikana massacre, in which 34 miners were killed by the police in August 2012. 

Masina said the proposed immunity would make it easier for politicians to leave office when their terms came to an end.

"The discussion on presidential immunity was sparked by the consistent posture of the ICC against African heads of states. This is not about salvaging President Zuma. It's not about what happened in the past, but what may happen in the future," he said.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta is on trial at the ICC, charged with crimes against humanity after 1 200 died in violence in 2008.
He denies the charges.

"Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe is also holding on to office because he fears that he might be prosecuted if he is out of office. You get the sense that we have not modelled our African states on those where presidents would be protected," said Masina.

He said the league would produce a discussion document and present it the ANC.

ICC concerns
The party's head of international relations, Obed Bapela, said that although the ANC was worried about the conduct of the ICC towards African heads of state, there was no need for presidential immunity in South Africa.

"They [the youth league] have not engaged the collective of the ANC. We will wait until then. But I really don't see what would warrant the ICC to look at the issue of Marikana. For me, it [Marikana] was just a labour matter, and there is a commission of inquiry dealing with it. The ICC deals with war crimes," said Bapela.

Professor Shadrack Gutto, a constitutional law expert at the University of South Africa [Unisa], said the concept of presidential immunity was undemocratic.

"This amounts to giving someone a licence to kill. It makes heads of states above the law. We can't have a situation where some people are above the law and exempt from various obligations that all other citizens have. It is a horrendous kind of thinking, and it is very dangerous.

"If they do it, the ANC will lose a lot of confidence among citizens. It can be done only if the party has a two-thirds majority, and voters will make sure the party does not get that," said Gutto.

Legal loophole
He pointed out that, even if South Africa had a law on presidential immunity, the ICC could still act, because national laws did not override international treaties.

Asked how the ANC would amend the Constitution without a two-thirds majority, Masina said: "We need an overwhelming number of seats in Parliament. There are many things requiring two-thirds, but this is not one of them.

"Anyway, we are working towards getting a two-thirds majority in this year's election. What matters now is to convince the ANC to introduce presidential ­immunity as a law, to convince the ANC it should be done. If we find that we need two-thirds, we will cross that bridge when we get there."



Matuma Letsoalo is a senior politics reporter at the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003, focussing on politics and labour, and collaborated with the M&G's centre for investigations, amaBhungane, from time to time.In 2011, Matuma won the South African Journalist of the Year Award and was also the winner in the investigative journalism category in the same year.In 2004, he won the CNN African Journalist of the Year prize – the MKO Abiola Print Journalism Award. Matuma was also a joint category winner of the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the year Award in 2008. In 2013, he was a finalist for Wits University's Taco Kuiper Award. Read more from ML

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