Magazine article New African

A Conspiracy of Tin Ears: President Zuma and His Allies in the Ruling African National Congress Are Ignoring the Warnings from the Constitutional Court over Official Corruption at Their Own Peril

Magazine article New African

A Conspiracy of Tin Ears: President Zuma and His Allies in the Ruling African National Congress Are Ignoring the Warnings from the Constitutional Court over Official Corruption at Their Own Peril

Article excerpt

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Nelson Mandela once said that if the ANC treated South Africans like the apartheid government did, then South Africans ought to do to the ANC what it did to the apartheid government. South Africans have never been closer to rising up against the ANC government than they are now. The effects of the ANC's estrangement from the population at large are likely to be felt in the local government polls in August. Mandela has since died and South Africans miss his voice of conscience. But his comrades on Robben Island have stepped up to the plate to do exactly what he would have done.

The veteran ANC leader and fellow Rivonia treason trial defendant Ahmed Kathrada threw the gauntlet at Jacob Zuma when he wrote a pained open letter to Zuma asking him to resign. One of the defining characteristics of the Robben Island prisoners--and this applies to all of them--is their sense of humility and discipline. Kathrada describes himself as an ordinary member of the ANC, who has been with the party since the 1940s and served it at its highest levels. What he does not say is that he is also the recipient of the highest honour the ANC government could bestow on anybody, the Order of Isithwalandwe/Seaparankoe.

It is this sense of humility that was palpably missing when Jacob Zuma, Gwede Mantashe and Baleka Mbethe, the top three officials of the organisation, addressed the media shortly after the Constitutional Court of South Africa delivered the biggest judicial takedown of a sitting president. The court judgment was delivered by a man that many of us in the commentariat suspected to be a Zuma acolyte, Mogoeng Mogoeng. This was largely because Mogoeng was selected over the head of the more deserving and far senior judge, Dikgang Moseneke. Moseneke, who taught an illiterate Zuma how to read and write on Robben Island, was being punished for his criticism of the ruling party. He was heard saying that as a judge he was not beholden to the ANC but to the constitution. That was exactly what the rest of us understood his judicial oath of office to demand, but certainly not the current ANC.

One of the most important qualities about Nelson Mandela was his respect for the rule of law. This may have had to do with the fact that he was a trained lawyer. He and Oliver Tambo started the first black law firm in Johannesburg in the 1950s. During his presidency Mandela received a subpoena from a racist rugby boss who said he had not exercised his mind in his pronouncements on the need for the sport to be transformed. Mandela's aides said it would be beneath his status to honour the subpoena, whose sole aim was to humiliate him. Mandela thought differently. He told his aides that to heed their advice would be to strike a blow at the very constitution he was enjoined to uphold.

As Judge Mogoeng put it in his judgement, the president is the only person upon whom the responsibility to protect the constitution, the republic and its people falls. President Zuma, the court found, had acted in violation of these constitutional duties but he was quick to point out that the principle of separation of powers also meant he could not make any statement beyond that. It was up to the legislature to sanction the president if it so desired. But we were now on the horns of a dilemma because the legislature itself had been found to have contravened the constitution.

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The ANC caucus in parliament had abetted Zuma's non-compliance with the Public Protector's finding that he should pay for the nonsecurity features at his Nkandla home. Instead of holding the president to account, they allowed all manner of investigations to be undertaken parallel to that of the Public Protector. But we also saw--and this was not part of the finding--how they also humiliated Madonsela whenever she came to parliament. Madonsela, it should be said, always acquitted herself with grace and dignity amidst the taunts and insults of her comrades in the ruling party. …

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