Editorial | Restore integrity of prosecutions

In September 1999, then whistleblower Patricia de Lille asked parliament to probe South Africa’s arms deal. The move would kickstart what was to be a lengthy, on-again, off-again legal battle over almost two shameful decades where politics consistently undermined the rule of law. Following three years of resistance, National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) head Shaun Abrahams announced on Friday that former president Jacob Zuma would be prosecuted on 16 charges of corruption, money laundering and racketeering. Predictably, Zuma’s lawyers have already indicated their plan to have Abrahams’s decision taken on review. They believe, among other things, that Zuma is unlikely to get a fair trial. Further, a pro-Zuma organisation has asked the Western Cape High Court to grant a permanent stay of prosecution. Both may not have a strong basis in law and are unlikely to succeed.

Zuma’s options are limited. With every day that passes, he is getting closer to having his day in court. However, while there finally seems to be progress in the case, the time and effort it has taken to get to this point remains of grave concern. It speaks of an era where important sections of our legal system were susceptible to control and manipulation for sinister political reasons. Beyond Zuma’s case, this is about the NPA’s integrity as a crucial arm of our law enforcement machinery. That the NPA and other arms of our legal system sprung into action against the Guptas and their associates only after the ANC’s December conference adds credence to the belief their decisions are influenced by the politics of the day rather than based purely on the rule of law. This predilection will not end with Zuma’s exit from office. It may not necessarily end when Abrahams eventually leaves office. It will take the appointment of a competent and impartial prosecutions boss, who must then be given space to restore what the Zuma years eroded from the NPA. It can be done and, for the sake of our democracy, it must be done.