Former president Jacob Zuma is responsible for destroying many of the independent institutions in post-apartheid South Africa. But fortunately, some withstood the onslaught, and Tuesday’s Constitutional Court ruling is a vindication of our Constitution and the institutions created to protect it.
Zuma’s conduct caused South Africa significant damage. He plunged our beautiful country into a downward spiral from which some believe we will not recover.
The financial damage is enormous – it will take many years for government’s fiscal position and the balance sheets of state-owned enterprises to recover, but the biggest challenge will be to address the social damage Zuma caused.
The distrust between the various spheres of society and racial tension are at all-time highs since the dawn of democracy. We see daily service delivery protests, and there are regular calls for tax boycotts.
In this context, the Constitutional Court’s ruling represents a potential turning point in our democracy and the country’s future as it restores some trust in our institutions. Only time will tell whether it is a definitive turning point.
It will become so if our prosecuting authorities can continue to hold Zuma and other alleged corrupt leaders such as Ace Magashule to account. It is critical, as the Zondo Commission heard countless allegations of blatant corruption.
Do yourself a favour and read the full Constitutional Court judgment. The description of the former president is scathing, and it is clear that the apex court acted brutally to protect the Constitution.
It reminded me of the admiration the world had for our Constitution after its adoption in 1996. It was heralded as an example of a new worldwide benchmark to protect and entrench human rights. It was also commended for the creation of many independent institutions tasked to defend it, and 25 years later, one of the few remaining institutions (in good standing) managed just that.
The focus will now shift to criminal prosecution. We are currently in an Al Capone scenario where Zuma is to be jailed for contempt of court and not corruption. But if we want to draw a line under the Zuma era and send a message to the world that no one in South Africa is above the law, he must be prosecuted for his actual crimes against the country.
The ruling creates dire consequences for the ruling party
The judgment also has significant consequences for the ruling party. Since the early 2000s, the party allowed Zuma to spin his web of corruption from various senior ANC positions. It started with his appointment as deputy president in 1997, just before the arms deal, and developed into large scale looting under his presidency.
This corruption network also channelled billions to fellow ANC colleagues and cadres. These individuals, united in the so-called Zuma faction in the ANC, will not go down without a fight, and it will be extremely difficult for President Cyril Ramaphosa and the “honest” faction to root out the corrupt members of the party. It will be even more difficult to change public perceptions that corruption has become part of the ANC’s DNA.
Many academics and commentators predict that the ANC will not survive the post-Zuma era, although this process may take many more years to play itself out. The next local government election will therefore be illuminating. (The ANC’s dire financial position may have the final say, but that is a topic for another day.)