Political Watch

South Africa in serious danger of tumbling into Zimbabwe scenario

President Zuma, presumed innocent
Pres Zuma.jpg

South Africa last week arrived at the final crossroads between the high road and the low road and is in serious danger of tumbling into a Zimbabwe-style downward spiral, fraught with dangers to its stability.

Judged on the reaction of the ruling African National Congress, and some of its key leaders, on the High Court’s judgement that President Jacob Zuma should face 783 corruption and related charges, the final battle for the survival of the country as a modern democracy functioning under the rule of law has just begun.

There are ominous signs that one of the first onslaughts by the ANC’s dominant insider clique to retain their grip on political power will be on the independent judiciary – one of the most crucial cornerstones of democracy.

The emotion-laden platform of funerals of erstwhile ‘struggle heroes’ seem to have become a favoured occasion for this clique to promote their cause.

It is important to note that a respected academic (Enock C. Mudzamiri), taking a look at the record of post-independence Zimbabwe, concluded that the loss of judicial independence was a key factor in triggering its “downward spiral.”

Another academic (Henning Melber), on the other hand, concluded that Namibia’s relative success as a democracy can be ascribed to that country still maintaining the rule of law, enabling it to withstand abuse of the rulers.

                              Also read: Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa after 22 years of freedom

This past Saturday a leader of one of the ANC’s alliance partners, the South African National Civic Organisation (SANCO), used the funeral of Duduzile Mchunu, the wife of Willies Mchunu, KwaZulu-Natal transport MEC and provincial ANC deputy chairman, to launch an attack on the judiciary.

Referring to the ruling in the ‘spy tapes’ case relating to the 783 charges and a number of others, including the Constitutional Court ruling (CC) regarding the Nkandla saga, SANCO’s Emmanuel Baloyi said: “The Western Cape High Court said the Public Protector’s remedial actions are not binding. That was a precedent. Then you have the CC judges saying they are binding. Same country same judges. There is something wrong here.”

With regard to the spy tapes judgement, he criticised Judge Aubrey Ledwaba for not placing the independence of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), which decided to drop the charges against President Zuma, on the same level as that of the courts.

Baloyi conveniently ignored the fact that the courts always have the final say in cases brought before it by the NPA.

More importantly, in this regard, is that the original charges (falling into three categories: racketeering, corruption and fraud) against President Zuma relate to the relationship between him, his former financial advisor, Schabir Shaik, and a company involved in the controversial weapons procurement programme of the late 1990s. Shaik has since been found guilty and convicted on similar charges stemming from that relationship.

It is also a recorded fact that the Zuma charges were withdrawn after interference by Mr Zuma in the functioning of the NPA, which triggered a string of controversies lasting to this day. 

Misuse of state security

In the academic article referred to above, it is also pointed out how Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF used its control of the bureaucratic and state security apparatus to protect its own position. Opposition forces were stigmatised and “external forces” blamed for all sorts of internal problems.

Not only has South Africa already experienced an onslaught on those challenging the absolute power of the ruling party, dating back to at least August 2014, but last week the Minister of State Security, in the face of widespread calls from civil society for Mr Zuma’s removal, launched a renewed attack on civil society formations and unnamed individuals.

                             Also read: When state security goes funny on “funny names”

ANC chairperson and speaker of parliament, Baleka Mbete, also chose the Mchunu funeral to lash out at preachers and organisations calling for the recall of President Jacob Zuma.

She urged South Africans to isolate those she calls “anti-revolutionary forces”, in particular “preachers” who, she claimed, are funded by foreign capital “to destabilise the country”.

Danger of violence

The Mudzamiri article describes how the misuse of state power in Zimbabwe saw that country descend into a cycle of violence, especially surrounding elections.

Considering the present controversy surrounding Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema’s threat that if the ruling ANC continued to respond violently to peaceful protests, “we will run out of patience very soon and we will remove this government through the barrel of a gun”; incidents of violent protests during recent voters’ registration process; and escalating violent service delivery protests, South Africa is in serious danger of slipping into a similar cycle.

The ANC noted the spy tapes judgement, but at the same time said it was “important to note that the Court did not deal with the merits of any allegations against President Zuma, nor did it make any finding declaring guilt on any matter against President Zuma”.

This clearly signals the party’s intentions to soldier on in the battle to keep Mr Zuma out of court. This battle is likely to continue in the courts in the months ahead.

In the meantime the party seems to miss, or ignore, the message from all corners, including from inside its own ranks, that the broad society’s patience is running out. 

Nothing illustrated this better than the fact that some ANC branches over the weekend joined an anti-Zuma march in Bloemfontein.

But it goes way beyond just issues concerning Mr Zuma and his leadership. He has just become the focal point of a wide range of frustrations as South Africa is entering a new, dangerous phase of its post-liberation transition.

by Piet Coetzer

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