Monday, March 30, 2009

South Africa: Graft charges against Zuma set to be dropped

The interim director of South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is expected to hold discussions today reportedly considering dropping graft charges against the leader of the ruling African National Congress Party, Jacob Zuma. This comes after the NPA spokesman Tlali Tlali said prosecutors were considering whether to drop the charges against Zuma after he lodged a legal request. Supporters of the ANC leader maintain graft charges against him are politically motivated, aimed to thwart his presidential ambitions. With the ruling party enjoying overwhelming support, Zuma is expected to become South Africa's next president after the April 22 general elections.

Constitutional law expert, Professor Shaddrack Gutto tells reporter Peter Clottey that there is a sharp division in opinion about the graft charges against Zuma.

"I think the issue for today (Monday) is one in which you have to put in context because it is not the meeting which will simply result in dropping the charges. The meeting we expect will deal with the issue whether or not charges are going to be dropped and either way, whether it is being dropped or not. So it is not something which is at this point in my view a fait accompli because there is divided opinion on this matter," he said.

Gutto noted the ANC leader seems to maintain that the charges against him are meant to prevent him from becoming the next president, although Zuma has yet to deny that he committed a crime.

"It is very serious for the National Prosecuting Authority because they had indicated they had a very strong case. And what the accused person, Jacob Zuma, has presented to them and which they ought to consider to decide on, whether they prosecute them or not, are really relevant because they amount to saying I was not alone. In not saying there was no wrongdoing, all he is saying is that the decision to prosecute him for those wrong decisions was politically motivated," he said.

Gutto said there are reasons to believe that news reports suggesting that the NPA wants to drop charges against the ANC leader are meant to put more pressure on the prosecuting authority to drop the graft charges ahead of the general election.

"That is a view which I think has some credence because it emanated from basically one of the brothers of Zuma's former financial advisor who was convicted of corruption and his relation with Jacob Zuma. So from that point of view, he is one of those who seem to have indicated that we should very quickly see that Zuma will not be tried and the press then picked and tried to build on that. So I believe it is a matter where they (supporters of Zuma) are testing public sentiment by leaking information to the press. And it is not something that is coming from the National Prosecution Authority. It is being forced on them," Gutto pointed out.

He said the opposition COPE has a point which some South Africans uphold, which is when the charges against Zuma are dropped, the move would undermine the country's rule of law.

"I think that if at all the charges are dropped that would be one of the ways in which the public will interpret what has happened. Of course, the diehard supporters of the ANC and its leadership position at this time will say it is the right thing to do because they have tried to throw all sorts of mud and tried to confuse the public by first of all saying former President (Thabo) Mbeki is implicated in the arms deal. But they seem to have now abandoned that and to moved on to other things relating to conversations which are alleged to have been had. And if it is true that Jacob Zuma has those tapes, they were definitely obtained illegally and unconstitutionally," he said.

ANC president Jacob Zuma has denied wrongdoing and says he is the victim of a political conspiracy in the corruption, money laundering and racketeering charges laid against him days after he defeated former South African President Thabo Mbeki for the ANC leadership at a conference in Polokwane.

Political observers say if the charges against Jacob Zuma are dropped, it could go a long way toward boosting the ANC's campaign in April 22 elections, where it faces its greatest electoral challenge since apartheid ended in 1994, but is still expected to emerge the winner. The breakaway Congress of the People (COPE) is expected to reduce the ANC's domination in parliament, in the face of growing public anger over corruption, poor services, poverty, and crime.

South Africa's opposition parties, including COPE, have sharply condemned any move to drop charges against the African National Congress leader, saying it would be a clear interference in the judiciary by the government. They maintain that if the NPA agrees to withdraw the charges by means of a special, backroom, deal with Zuma's legal team, this would create the impression that the NPA had capitulated to political pressure from the ruling party.

The ruling African National Congress is expected to maintain its two thirds majority in parliament on April 22, despite facing a stiff challenge from the breakaway COPE opposition party.

Published with the permission of Voice of America
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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