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Presidents and Constitutions

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on February 17, 2021 10:51

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The relationships of ex-presidents and the Constitution was in the news this past week. An incumbent is also apparently contemplating ow the law might be used to render political opposition less bothersome.

“They don’t like me…” That seems to be the central argument of a long Twitter statement by ex-President of South Africa Jacob Zuma in response to a decision by a judicial Commission to have him arrested for refusing to testify. A Commission of Enquiry into allegations of widespread corruption in the highest levels of the State has run out of patience with delaying tactics, prevarication, and obstruction by the very person who appointed the Commission in the first place, albeit unwillingly. The Commission has now asked the Constitutional Court to issue a Contempt of Court warrant against Zuma, who had been implicated by 40 witnesses before the Commission.

http://thelatest.com/uploads/tlt/de19f4f605fbd3aad991e9cd7c01aa99.png
Zondo Commission on State Capture in session. eNCA / Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0

Ex-President Zuma has, however, been drumming up supporters. A group of camouflage-clad people claiming to represent the veterans of the armed wing of the ruling party during the armed struggle, uMkhonto we Sizwe, gathered at the ex-President’s rural homestead and undertook to protect Mr. Zuma. The Deputy-Secretary-General of the ruling ANC went to the media to claim that party loyalty should trump loyalty to the country. 

Jacob Zuma, previous President of South Africa. Wikipedia CC BY 2.0

Student bodies and party youth movements hauled out discredited slogans about White Monopoly Capital to exonerate Zuma and other corrupt leaders. Other supporters in high positions are vacillating, and the nation awaits the next step with bated breath.

You would not believe this if it was fiction.

A little to our north, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, President Félix Tshisekedi seems to be contemplating a new power structure to allow him more freedom of movement. Having dissolved the ‘sacred union’ with ex-President Joseph Kabila’s party that gained him the election, Tshisekedi is now seeking a new coalition to maintain his hold on power.

President Félix Tshisekedi with US Secretary of State Pompeo. State Department - Public Domain Wikipedia

Observers point out that African leaders see incumbency as more important than constitutional checks and balances. Tshisekedi’s recent judicial appointment that sparked the recent disagreement with his erstwhile allies seems to lead to a new phase of Big Man politics. There is concern that years of being in opposition has ill-prepared the present incumbent for the leadership of a diverse and underdeveloped country. Ethnic polarisation may again become an effective technique, leading to future tensions and bloodshed in this already suffering country.

Is it only an African phenomenon that leaders, and ex-leaders, see themselves as above the law, and seek bully boys to protect them against the consequences of their defiance of the law? Is the intoxication of political power so strong?

The Sun King in France was reputed to have said: "L’Etat c’est moi”, which translates to “The State is me.” We know how this ended. Would a guillotine help to concentrate the minds of leaders who seek power for themselves?

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on February 17, 2021 10:51

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Source: NYT

The former president, breaking an unusually long silence, called the Senate minority leader a “dour, sullen, and unsmiling...

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