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Of Presidents and the Law

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on February 6, 2020 06:33

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The legal peregrinations of Jacob Zuma, from his days as Deputy President, through his long Presidency, until what should have been a peaceful retirement keeps amusing the nation. It might have been a soap opera, instead it is a long drawn out battle over some fourteen years to avoid the arm of the law. But the question at the end is: should a President be above the law?

Back in the days of the struggle against Apartheid, the leaders of the ANC were, almost by definition, beyond the law. And Jacob Zuma, intelligence operative, was happy with that. One of the songs sung at the time was "Umshini wami," or "Bring my Machine Gun." In a struggle against what was seen as an unjust but fearsome government, the idea of taking up a machine gun to fight for your rights might have had something going for it. 

One of the quotes heard after the end of Apartheid was: "I did not join the struggle to be poor." And among the litany of as yet unpunished cases of corruption, the misappropriation of funds for weapons stand out. Then-Deputy President Jacob Zuma was fingered in that one, and his financial advisor, Schabir Shaik, was sentenced in 2005 to fifteen years jail time for fraud and corruption involving Zuma, in the purchase of military equipment. Zuma evaded the arm of the law, while Shaik was soon pronounced terminally ill, and discharged. He has since made a miraculous recovery and is apparently often seen on the golf course. 

Internal political wrangling resulted in the leaking of a discussion between then-President Mbeki and prosecutors about the timing of a possible arrest of Zuma, leading to Zuma claiming that the charges had been tainted by political intrigue. He used this to unseat Mbeki, and all through his presidency, Zuma managed to evade charges in one form of another. And he often answered criticism by appealing to his faithful by singing 'Bring my machine gun.'

A new Presidency brought renewed vigour to the prosecution of Zuma, who at one time expressed a desire to have 'his day in court' to clear his name. Yet he has conducted a 'Stalingrad defence,' seeking every possible way to avoid facing justice. A hearing on February 4, 2020 was told that he was ill, and a dubious medical note was presented which caused the judge to issue a warrant for the arrest of Zuma. Faithful followers expressed outrage, calling it a travesty of justice, victimisation, and persecution. Several offered to go to jail on his behalf, and claims that his health was a matter of state security were heard.  

Ex-President Zuma. File photo Michelle Spatari, AFP

A Twitter post shortly after the arrest warant was issued showed Zuma taking aim with a rifle, prompting followers to ask if his response to the warrant was to reach for his machine gun? 

Response to the warrant? Image via Twitter, @PresJGZuma

What is perhaps more worrying is that several of the Zuma faction came very close to threatening the judge, calling on the judiciary to be investigated and be subjected to security clearances. A Minister who is close to Zuma called the issuing of the warrant 'nothing but a personal vendetta against the former president'.

Should a political leader be above the law? Are other Presidents different?

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on February 6, 2020 06:33

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Source: CNN

A South African judge said she was left with no choice but to issue former President Jacob Zuma with an arrest warrant after...

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