There are obvious comparisons to be drawn between fallen Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and beleaguered President Jacob Zuma. Both have been accused of inappropriate conduct, or worse, misconduct, towards women and abusing their positions of power.
Zuma was of course acquitted of rape charges and Weinstein has yet to be charged. With eight women, at least, claiming Weinstein criminally assaulted them, charges are likely to be framed in the US and even in the UK.
But the less obvious linkage between the pair relates to their power or its slippage from their respective grasps. Many have questioned why the New York Times chose only to publicise last week what was apparently the worst- kept secret in Hollywood. One of the less reassuring, perhaps accurate, answers was that Weinstein’s once hugely successful movie production company is on the wane. He now has far less clout and influence in the business than he once did and he is no longer the maker and breaker of Hollywood careers.
Zuma, similarly, is in the twilight of a fading career at the helm of our politics. His influence, while still immense, is on the wane. It is not yet clear how much damage he can still do to the South African political economy on his way to the exit door, or when he might leave the stage, but the certainty is that he, too, is at the end of his power run.
Two myths that sustained Zuma’s improbable ascent to the presidency were dealt a devastating blow last Friday by the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein.
In a 94-paragraph unanimous judgment of the court, Judge Mahomed Navsa essentially blew away the core claim by the Zuma camp that his prosecution was motivated by ulterior or improper purposes and that he was a victim of a political conspiracy hatched by Thabo Mbeki and other internal opponents.
Second, and more consequential, is the effect of the judgment: in affirming that the decision was irrational not to prosecute Zuma on over 700 charges of corruption, racketeering and money-laundering, the judgment places the president back as an accused person. It was only the removal of these charges that cleared Zuma’s ascent to the presidency.
The decision to reinstate the charges now rests on the national director of public prosecutions, the much-criticised Shaun Abrahams. His detractors refer to him as “Shaun the Sheep”. A more precise moniker is “Zuma’s poodle”, given his record of not prosecuting the president and his allies, and his enthusiasm for trumping up charges against the president’s enemies such as Pravin Gordhan.
But if he finds further reasons to filibuster or spin out the decision not to reinstate the charges, in the face of Friday’s judgment, he is very likely to find another application to be brought against him to do precisely that.
The key finding in the judgment was that the then acting head of the National Prosecuting Authority, Mokotedi Mpshe (whom the court branded “a liar”), misconstrued as irrelevant the effect of the decision to delay the charges against Zuma until after the Polokwane conference in 2007.
Further, even if there was a conspiracy against Zuma, this “bad motive does not destroy a good case”. Mpshe had conceded, in deciding not to prosecute Zuma – against whom the case was “strong” – that the NPA had achieved the opposite of what Mpshe had claimed for it: to preserve the integrity of the prosecuting authority.
The key finding of the court is worth recording: “In those circumstances discontinuing a prosecution in respect of which the merits are good and in respect of which there is heightened public interest because of the breadth and nature of the charges and the person at the centre of it, holding the highest public office, can hardly rebound to the NPA’s credit or advance the cause of justice or promote the integrity of the NPA.”
Zuma’s prosecution was coupled on the tote, as we say in racing, with the successful conviction of his then financial enabler Schabir Shaik. If the judgment does not cause sleepless nights for Nkandla’s most famous resident, then this week’s announcement by Shaik that he is willing to turn state witness and “tell the truth” should interrupt Zuma’s rest even further.
It is well known that there has been an estrangement between the Shaik family and Zuma since their once fast partnership enabled “Number One” to live a lifestyle he clearly could not afford. Who knows what his testimony might yield at the much delayed trial when it finally happens?
In fact, the most single striking feature of Friday’s judgment occurs right at its commencement. Judge Navsa reminds the court that the investigations relating to Zuma’s criminal conduct date back to 2001. That’s right – some 16 years have elapsed since he was first investigated.
Justice delayed is, famously, justice denied. But for a long-suffering South Africa, perhaps the Day of Judgment is arriving.
- Leon (@TonyLeonSA), a former leader of the opposition, now chairs Resolve Communications and is a senior adviser to K2 Intelligence of London
- Featured in The Sunday Times