Political Watch

Dark Zuma clouds of political uncertainty over SA


Will South Africa’s president be formally prosecuted on charges of fraud, racketeering and corruption by the end of this week and what will be the likely response from government?

This question is presently casting a dark shadow of uncertainty over South Africa’s political stability.

The matter of the 783 charges of fraud, corruption and racketeering against President Jacob Zuma is presently in the hands of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), which in 2009 withdrew the charges against him. A critical point regarding this issue will be reached by Friday this week at the latest.

On 29 April the North Gauteng High Court (NGHC) set aside the decision by former acting National Director of Public Prosecutions Mokotedi Mpshe to withdraw the charges based on the so-called ‘spy tapes’.

There are, are broadly speaking, diverging interpretations of the NGHC judgement – one that it implies that the charges are standing again and the other that the NPA has to reconsider the charges without the ‘spy tapes’ being a consideration in its decision.

A third possibility is for the NPA, and possibly the president, to approach the Appeals Court to have the judgement overruled.

Be that as it may, the NPA and others had 14 days to respond to the judgement. Depending on how you count, the 14 days expired either on Friday the 13th of May or a week later, which is this coming Friday the 20th of May.

Leader of the official opposition in parliament, Mmusi Maimane, last week wrote to NPA head Shaun Abrahams telling him that he has until Friday to make his decision known regarding the judgement.

The NPA reacted via a statement by its spokesperson, Luvuyo Faku, saying that the 14-day deadline did not include holidays and weekends. “The deadline is the 20th, after counting 14 working days, and not the 13th (of May),” he said.

Serious implications

Whenever and whichever way the NPA responds, there will be profound implications attached to it.

If it decides not to go ahead with the prosecution of President Zuma on other grounds than what was revealed in the spy tapes, it is highly likely that legal actions by opposition parties will follow – especially since the Durban High Court already in 2005 when convicting of Mr Zuma’s then financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, found that there was a “corrupt relationship” between them.

Shaik, sentenced to 15 years in jail and presently controversially on parole and already having waited some years for a response to his application for a presidential pardon, has already indicated that based on the findings of the Seriti Commissions he might be applying for a review of his conviction.

But Shaik could also come into play if the NPA should decide to proceed with the charges against President Zuma. In a recent newspaper interview Shaik indicated that he will be willing to testify should the trial proceed.

The most serious implications, however, if the NPA decides to proceed with the charges will be for his position as head of state and leader of the governing ANC.

Among the questions that will arise, are the following, to mention but a few:

  • Will it be advisable or even possible for President Zuma to proceed with his normal duties as head of state while facing criminal charges in court?
  • Can the ANC afford to go into the nationwide municipal elections with him as the face of the party?
  • How will it influence the factional battles inside the broader ANC alliance and a possible succession battle in the unlikely event of him deciding to vacate his office?
  • How will it impact on South Africa’s international image and the already shaky investor confidence?

The neatest solution, which probably should have happened some time ago, came in March 2015 from United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa who suggested that Mr Zuma should take a sabbatical until the allegations against him are cleared. 

That would create the situation where, without any legal problems, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa can take over the presidential duties. It would also create some breathing space for the ANC to manage various processes – including the election of a new leader, which has to happen in 2019 at the latest anyway.

However, judged by the way Mr Zuma and the ANC have been handling the whole affair to date, it is unlikely that this route will be followed.


Whatever decision comes out of the NPA’s internal processes and behind-the-scenes activities in reaction to the Constitutional Court’s 29 April judgement, the process is likely to become even more messy and fraught with uncertainties before the dawn of a post-Zuma era.

by Piet Coetzer

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