For a man who has often said he wanted his day in court, Jacob Zuma is sure doing everything he can to avoid it.
Despite being repeatedly called to appear in front of the Zondo Commission and answer dozens of allegations of corruption made against him, Mr Zuma remains conspicuous by his absence. He has also not submitted any of the mandatory affidavits.
He is now facing a possible two-year prison sentence for contempt of court, a move which would undoubtedly be, as so eloquently described by the BBC’s Africa correspondent Andrew
Harding, a “truly seismic moment” for our young democracy.
Not that Mr Zuma seems too troubled by the potential fallout of his actions. In what some newspapers have described as “an extraordinary display of contempt for the rule of law in South Africa,” he is currently staying very comfortably put in his rural home. He is reportedly being guarded by members of the uMkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans’ Association (MKMVA) – who have publicly said they will do whatever it takes to prevent his arrest.
Their intention is chillingly clear:
“We do not want to see social instability in SA. But such a judgement will inevitably lead to social instability which will not be good for South Africa or for the ANC… that’s why we sincerely hope that this will not happen,” said MKMVA spokesperson Carl Niehaus.
Professor Susan Booysen, a director at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection and author of “Dominance and Decline: The ANC in the Time of Zuma,” believes Zuma has been playing a game of brinkmanship and likely thought the authorities were scared to hold him accountable. “Zuma appears to be bargaining on the fear of a possible insurrection if he was to be arrested,” she said.
Zuma’s explanation as to why he has not appeared before the commission of enquiry to address the allegations against him is that he is innocent of any wrongdoing and has “lost trust” in South Africa’s justice system.
“I am not afraid of going to jail, as I was not under the apartheid system,” he said, “However, I will not subject myself to an oppressive and unjust court system.”
But Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, lawyer for the Zondo Commission, said Mr Zuma’s failure to comply with a court order was both “deliberate and cynical.”
“The spectacle we fear is of Mr Zuma continuing to run rings around the commission,” he said. “Because he is brought today, he doesn’t speak, he’s brought another day, and the entire thing degenerates into a circus. Another 30 days changes nothing. He has been served with papers, he has not responded. So, another 30 days simply enables the abuse of the Constitutional Court to continue. The abuse of this court should stop – and it can only stop by a custodial sentence.
“His conduct must be seen for what it is – a cynical manoeuvre to avoid accountability. The two-year jail term we want imposed on Mr Zuma would show the level of seriousness of his actions.”
It’s not yet clear whether the Constitutional Court will take the State Capture Commission’s case forward. We do, however, know one thing for sure. As Susan Booysen says, “The martyr act will definitely be there.”
The court is expected to make its ruling at a later, but as yet undeclared, date.
In the meantime, Mr Zuma is no doubt hugely satisfied with the way things are going. He is being allowed to get away with making a complete mockery of the Constitutional Court.
Mr Ngcukaitobi agrees: “[Zuma] should have gone to the commission on the 15th of February. He did not do so, and he deliberately did not do so. To try and now find some sort of justification for him when he has not bothered to put it under oath here, simply brings about discredit to the institution of the judiciary.”
I believe that if he is not forced to testify, if he is allowed to get away with his continued defiance, we will be setting a very dangerous precedent. It will be the start of an extremely slippery slope down which our entire country is destined to fall.
It’s been over 70 years since Alan Paton’s iconic novel “Cry, The Beloved Country” was first published. And yet here we are, in 2021, crying for South Africa for a whole new set of reasons.
So, What Can We Do?
South Africa’s politicians – current and former – are civil servants. They should, by the very definition of their jobs, be serving society before themselves.
The term “servant leadership” was first coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in an essay he published in 1970. He said, “The servant-leader is servant first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first. The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit – or at least not be further deprived?”
How different would our country be if those in power were all true servant leaders?
Indeed, some of South Africa’s foremost civil society organisations released a joint statement in response to the “Zuma saga” saying, “Our Constitution was always intended to represent a break from that past. It rests on the predicate that all of us are equal before the law. There can be no more harmful assault on this bedrock than that a former president, who has enjoyed every power and privilege under this law – and continues to enjoy the privileges of his former office – should insist that he be immune from the reach of the commission and of the Constitutional Court, and that this impunity stand unchecked.”
The statement goes on to say, “South Africans have been waiting patiently, for nearly a decade, to hear the truth about State Capture. The Zondo Commission, which is funded by the public, must be allowed to do its job on behalf of the country.
“Activists, whistle-blowers and community leaders have shown their support of and submitted evidence to the commission.”
The issue of whistle-blowers is always emotive, and one about which I’ve written before. My viewpoint hasn’t changed: If those involved in corruption in our country – no matter who they are – are to be brought to justice for the harm their actions have caused, we have to, as a country, provide a safe environment for whistle-blowers to come forward.
No one, not even a former president, is above the law. We have to hold people accountable for their actions and uphold and preserve our constitution and democracy.