If last week’s Constitutional Court judgment was a victory for democracy, why is Jacob Zuma still president? Experts say the findings against Zuma are proof that our institutions are working.
Well, having institutions that work is not enough. It does not give effect to justice if it leaves lawbreakers in control. Where are the fruits of victory? Are we better off? What has changed, except that the expectation of change has grown feverish? Expectations were raised on Friday, when both Zuma and the ANC announced they would speak to the nation.
Zuma is doubly to blame for the sense of disappointment. If he had no intention of stepping down, he should not have wasted the nation’s weekend time. If we had known in advance that we’d be subjected to lies and denial, we would not have watched. The euphoria that erupted when we were told “democracy is the winner” has evaporated.
What did democracy win? You’d think South Africa must have experienced the political equivalent of an earthquake. Yet Zuma’s protection establishment still stands. Struggle icons are asking Zuma to step down but they might as well talk to a brick wall. Zuma is impervious. With so many beholden to his patronage network, no one has the capacity to get rid of him. His compromised Cabinet remains intact.
Speaker Baleka Mbete is unapologetic, insisting on business as usual. How is this possible, this disjuncture between expectation and the lack of change? The missing ingredient is intent. People in power do not embrace the spirit of the constitution. They lack intent to uphold the ideals of our constitutional democracy. We have only the trappings of democracy. At every level, the governing party merely goes through the motions, paying lip service to laws. We see it in local government with fake displays of “public participation” or other legal requirements.
The best laid rules of democracy are undermined by malicious intent, from the top down. The current ANC leadership signed up for constitutional democracy without understanding what that means. For example, Zuma is on record as saying in parliament, “the majority has more rights”. Such majoritarian thinking led the ANC to commit illegalities.
Blatant lies on matters ranging from the arms deal, to Travelgate and Nkandla have been endorsed because the ANC had the numbers. Now, in their selective reading of the Mogoeng judgment, Zuma, Mbete and others say they were following what they believed was the correct legal advice at the time. Yet the judgment does not allow that excuse.
The relevant passage says Zuma “might have been following wrong legal advice and therefore acting in good faith. But that does not detract from the illegality of his conduct, regard being had to its inconsistency with his constitutional obligations”.
The contest between constitutional democracy and majoritarianism has been settled in the highest court. But corruption has not yet loosened its grip on the soul of the ANC. That’s why, in outward appearance, not much has changed. Yes, Zuma will go. It’s just a matter of when.
Churchill is apt: “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”