ISLANDn Wednesday night, 45 minutes to midnight, Jacob Zuma blinked. In what was the most significant moment for the rule of law in South Africa after apartheid, the former president surrendered to the police.
Zuma was actually three days late. The Apex Constitutional Court ruled last week that he should surrender before Sunday with a charge of contempt of court, after repeatedly refusing to appear before a statutory commission looking into allegations of corruption against him. If he did not surrender voluntarily, the police minister would have to arrest him at midnight on Wednesday. This past week, Zuma and his followers – gathered outside his rural area near Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal – threatened opposition and even war against the state if authorities tried to enter into the connection while his lawyers were involved in a futile trial. to try to get him off the hook (a judge rejected Zuma’s application this morning).
The ruling African National Congress sent its leadership to mitigate the situation. Still, Deputy Secretary-General Jessie Duarte publicly wished Zuma success in challenging his imprisonment. The party seemed divided. Outside Zuma’s Nkandla farm, police were unable to disperse the event, which attracted hundreds over the weekend and violated Covid restrictions. South Africa is in a deadly delta variant-driven third wave with all public meetings banned. During a press conference, Zuma had the audacity to compare the rules with the state of emergency from the apartheid era and offered them as proof of the government’s tyranny. Yet at the same time, he complained that the Constitutional Court, by sending him to prison in the midst of the pandemic, handed him “a death sentence.”
Asked if he would instruct his supporters not to resist his arrest, former President Trumpishly warned, “do not provoke people.” His lawyer Dali Mpofu issued the same threat to a judge on Tuesday, provoking the ghost of the Marikana massacre in 2012, in which police killed 34 striking miners by suggesting that bidders not to cause “another Marikana” should override any legal consideration of jurisdiction. . . Police Minister Bheki Cele was detained. Finally, at the last minute on Wednesday night, a large police contingent went to Nkandla to do his job. This is when Zuma decided to surrender.
Zuma is deeply implicated in what has become known as “state capture”: the kleptocracy forged by the relationship between the president and many others in government with a criminal syndicate run by the Gupta family. It was Zuma’s refusal to show up for what has become known as the State Conquest Commission that led to his contempt. He is also currently on trial for charges of corruption in connection with an arms deal when he was vice president. He denies any wrongdoing despite the mass of evidence, much of which was submitted to the commission, which he refuses to attend, on the grounds that it is biased against him.
“Those in power and those in the judiciary clearly do not know what it means to exercise power,” Zuma told his supporters over the weekend about the Constitutional Court’s ruling. He believed that the court and the state abused their powers, but also – ominously – that such powers were bad when faced with a martial and nebulous patriarch like himself. It was a mockery, and his capitulation on Wednesday night is nothing short of a triumph for the rule of law in a country whose promise of apartheid has been ruined by such impunity. Zuma may call himself a “prisoner of conscience”, but South Africans have now witnessed, tangibly, the power of this country’s constitution and the courts that are its guardians, to put even a former president behind bars.
Does this mean that we are entering a new era of constitutionalism that could possibly fulfill the promises of the Mandela era? Zuma’s successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, led the charge of firing him as president over allegations of corruption and wanting to be the face of a pure ANC. He faces a Sisyphean task. Even his supposed allies turn out to be compromised. He had to put his health minister Zweli Mhkize on “special leave” last month after it was revealed he was implicated in a racket to redirect Covid-19 means of communication to comrades who allegedly benefited his family However. While Digital Vibes – the communications company Mkhize allegedly instructed its department to enter into contracts, run by a close friend – ran fraudulent press conferences and pocketed millions of dollars, there has been almost no government campaign for citizens to get vaccinated. The evil is that South Africa is far behind its vaccination goals – due to fear and ignorance rather than lack of resources. This when the third wave bites, with more than 20,000 new cases and 400 deaths reported per day at the moment.
Meanwhile, the state-owned electricity provider regularly continues to throw us into the dark as a consequence of corruption and mismanagement, and the passenger lane system is barely functioning. The reasons for this and other serious problems in the state’s ability to govern have been abundantly sent to the State Conquest Commission. But so deep was the damage that Zuma and his comrades did to the criminal justice system that the national prosecution has not yet been able to charge against all the perpetrators except one or two.
In truth, we have more to fear for the continued corruption and inefficiency of Ramaphosa’s government than for the political instability that Zuma’s supporters may cause. Although there have been protests all over KwaZulu-Natal this morning, the fear of a setback to his arrest is overestimated: even though he is much loved in his home province and too many people feel sorry for him, his depths are a ragtag coterie. Increasingly alienated from a Ramaphosa-led ANC, they are likely to ally with Julius Malema’s tough economic freedom fighters on the left. The best way to curb the growth of such a coalition of misconduct is for the government to provide decent services, a feasible plan to revive the tank economy and a reason for South Africans to trust that they will be protected by the police and the courts from endemic lawlessness. The rat moving down from high-level to street-level state corruption and crime makes people live in a state of eternal fear.
Deputy Chief Justice Sisi Khampepe began her ruling on Zuma with a quote from Nelson Mandela: “We expect you to be on guard not only against direct attacks on the principles of the Constitution, but against insidious corrosion.” Mandela said these words to the country’s first constitutional judges at its inauguration in 1995. Khampepe used them to send a message to his lawyers, to Ramaphosa’s government and to all of us South Africans.