Today’s decision by the head to of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to proceed with criminal charges against former President Jacob Zuma is to be welcomed.
The decision represents an important victory for two critical aspects of any constitutional democracy: The rule of law, and the role and purpose of a vigilant opposition. Our democracy has been well served by both and will, as a result, be stronger for the precedent set.
It is worrying, however, that despite a vast, well-documented and repeatedly confirmed compendium of evidence concerning the former President, well ventilated over the course of a decade, it took so long for it to translate into the requisite moral imperative inside the ANC itself.
Even at the point of his removal from office, neither the ANC nor the incumbent, President Cyril Ramaphosa, would provide the public with reasons for the termination of his tenure.
Today, the public is none the wiser. This disjuncture – between a well-evidenced argument for his unsuitability for office and an obligation to the public to lead by example and in an open and transparent manner – suggests that, even today, the ANC has failed properly to take responsibility for the decision it made, when it elected Jacob Zuma as its president in 2007.
That is cause for serious concern. South Africa will remain at the mercy of populism if it does not inculcate the important lessons Jacob Zuma’s legal battles hold. Of them all, the ultimate one is that all are equal before the law. When we allow self-interest to elevate one man above others in the name of some demagogic agenda, that is to open the path to self-destruction and tyranny.
If there is indeed a “New Dawn” breaking inside the ANC, some moral introspection and reflection is now required.
Statement issued by Gareth van Onselen, Head of Policy and Governance at the SA Institute of Race Relations, 16 March 2018