A year ago, Jacob Zuma seemed thickly coated in Teflon and able to survive any attempt to unseat him. But now the former president faces serious charges – a direct and clear indication that democracy reigns in South Africa.
According to political and civil society commentators, the National Prosecuting Authority’s decision to put Zuma on trial for one count of racketeering, two counts of corruption, one count of money laundering and 12 counts of fraud, is also true testimony to the strength and durability of the rule of law, they say.
“This is despite all previous political pressures on the NPA which kept Zuma’s prosecution at bay for some time, and despite all the efforts to get personnel and leaders of law enforcement agencies to bow down to pressure,” political analyst Somadoda Fikeni said.
“These institutions, one by one, are in a recovery mode and are trying to restore their professional pride.”
NPA head Shaun Abrahams has been castigated during his tenure for previously neglecting to prosecute Zuma, with some accusing him of being a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”.
Political analyst Susan Booysen said if the decision to prosecute Zuma was made nine years ago under then NPA director of public prosecutions Mokotedi Mpshe, it would have also resulted in a very different South African landscape – possibly one for the better.
“It has taken almost nine years out of South Africa’s political life. Not everything went wrong under Zuma, but so much of the national energy had to be spent in trying to correct this. One cannot help but wonder how different a place South Africa might have been, because that decision (not to prosecute) enabled Zuma to become president.”
There is a sense of moving forward and “putting this chapter of horror behind us”, she said. “But there is a so much damage that has to be undone.
“We should also not look at this decision with rose-tinted glasses, because it is one step in the process.
“He [Zuma] will still throw every possible obstruction in the way. He will probably only subject himself to the law if the fountain of legal fees dry up,” Booysen said.
Abraham’s decision was also a reflection of changing political circumstances within the ANC, said political analyst Daniel Silke.
“It took the change of leadership to provide the necessary impetus for the NPA to act at last after a decade of barricading. The action shows that the protection of Zuma within the ANC had also seemed to be dissipating,” he said.
“It is a major decision for South Africa to see a former president have charges served with the potential of a guilty verdict. It does indicate that the new ANC is serious about rooting out corruption and it shows the Zuma faction is largely on the way out. There isn’t really any protection left for him, notwithstanding his backers who remain in powerful positions within the ANC.
“It shows clearly no one is above the law here, and we have restored a degree of faith in the NPA – as damaged as it was under Shaun Abrahams.”
Fikeni agreed with Booysen.
“Those who are in the driving seat are not directly implicated … if the very person at the helm of this was involved, he would do everything to defend himself.
“Now unchained, the ANC will be able to revive itself and say our fight against corruption is to be taken seriously if the former first citizen is now being charged. It sends a ripple effect to anyone at any level in the public or private sector that the law might be delayed but justice at some point will be done,” Fikeni said.
The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) also welcomed the decision.
“Shaun [Abrahams] has shown at least some moral courage – very late though – but it doesn’t redeem him from past delays and irrational charges brought against Pravin Gordhan and others,” its chairperson Wayne Duvenage said.
“For a long time South Africans believed Zuma was above the law, that he would never see his day in court,” he said.