10 September 2008

A plea bargain for Zuma?

Yesterday the media were reporting that Jacob Zuma's legal representatives and supporters were looking at the possibility of a plea bargain in his impending corruption trial. They spoke of this as a way of going forward.

It seems to me that that would be the worst possible outcome. As I understand it, a plea bargain means making a guilty plea in exchange for a reduced sentence. Far from being a way of going forward, it is a way of moving rapidly backwards. We then have the opportunity to vote for a party whose leader is not merely suspected of being corrupt, but one we know is corrupt because he himself would have admitted it.

If, on the other hand, Zuma is tried and acquitted, we can go forward into the next election, knowing that his record has been cleared. If he is tried and found guilty, and the court determines the degree of his guilt, then voters can weigh that up with other factors in deciding whether or not to vote for the ANC. But with a plea bargain, one cannot escape the suspicion that the corruption goes far deeper than anything that has been revealed up till now.

But the biggest problem is not Jacob Zuma and the unresolved accusations of corruption. Corrupt politicians are a universal problem. Most countries have them. One almost expects them to be corrupt, and encountering a politician with a degree of integrity is a pleasant surprise.

No, what threatens our infant democracy is not Jacob Zuma and the suspicion of corruption. It is rather the attitude of some of his supporters. As one columnist has put it:

The Times - If Vavi is so concerned about SA he should allow us justice:
CONGRESS of SA Trade Unions secretary-general Zwelinzima Vavi has me confused.

Last week he told us that the union federation is deeply concerned that if ANC president Jacob Zuma is brought to trial, then workers would plunge the country into chaos.

The only way to prevent this chaos, he told us, would be to dump the looming trial against Zuma.

He said: “We fear what could happen should something happen to him [Zuma]. The belief among workers and South Africans — that the ANC president is a target of machinations, runs very deep."

This is shocking and preposterous blackmail by Vavi.

There is zero evidence that “workers” are angry that Zuma is facing the music, as any ordinary citizens would do, if there were such serious allegations against them.

Protests held to drum up support for Zuma (such as the marches on KwaZulu-Natal courts on Friday), draw pathetic responses.

The two persons who have threatened violence if Zuma is not let off are Vavi himself and the ANC Youth League president Julius Malema.
So one is left wondering what revelations Cosatu has to fear from a Zuma trial that makes them so anxious to prevent it.

One of the problems in South African politics over the last few years is that there is so little choice. That may seem a strange thing to say when our elections have been contested by upwards of 20 parties, and we have a system of proportional representation, so that for the first year or two after the election we have a parliament that generally reflects the will of the people (that is, until the crosstitutes start their floor crossing, after which parliament represents no one but the politcians themselves -- that is a corruption that has to be weighed against any possible corruption of Zuma).

But the fact is that Cosatu represents one political force that is not represented in parliament. If it were not part of the tripartite alliance with the ANC and the Communist Party, Cosatu could serve as a counterbalance to the Thatcherism of the ANC and its policies of Black Elite Enrichment (BEE), on the one hand, and the white racism of the Democratic Alliance on the other. Cosatu could be the voice of the working class and the poor.

But now that Jacob Zuma has become president of the ANC, in part with the support of Cosatu, one is not quite sure whether Cosatu thinks it has bought Zuma, or whether it has sold out to him. Before last December, if Cosatu had stood on a separate ticket I might have voted for them, but Vavi's utterances since then have shown that that would have been a mistake.

I think I'll stick with Patricia de Lille and the Independent Democrats.

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