Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Weekly Newsletter to the Nation
Friends and fellow South Africans,
The recent media reports that the NPA is about to drop the fraud and corruption charges against Mr Zuma raise questions about nothing less than the validity of the principle of equality under the law in our country.
According to the media reports, before taking this decision the NPA consulted widely with religious leaders, community leaders, taxi associations and other groups. If that is the case, the very foundations of justice in our country have been turned upside-down.
Any civilised system of law is based on the axiom that all citizens are equal before the law, irrespective of their status in society and their popularity with the crowds. The rule of law means that no one is above the law and that the law remains blind to irrelevant personal circumstances when bringing justice. This accounts for the fact that throughout the world, for the past two thousand years, in statues and paintings alike, justice is portrayed as a blind-folded lady holding a sword in the one hand and scales in the other.
If one is to go by the media reports, in this case Lady Justice has not only dropped her blindfold, but has allowed herself to be actively courted by the supporters of a suspect.
The prosecution of Mr Zuma has been discussed for seven years and has been by far the most hotly debated issue in our country since our liberation in 1994.
It has therefore become the true acid test of whether our ruling class means what it says.
In this debate, the crucial issue has been that of political interference which led first to the charges being dismissed and then being re-proposed in a different form. The ruling party rallied behind its commitment that there shall never again be political interference in this matter or any other aspect of the prosecution of suspects.
But, instead, we are now faced with an organised effort to interfere with the discretion of the National Prosecuting Authority on a grand scale. Under the law and the Constitution, the NPA should decide whether to pursue charges on the basis of the interests of justice, not on the results of a popularity poll.
Time and again, Mr Zuma has declared that he wishes to have his day in court to clear his name. The latter goes beyond his personal credibility as it now also affects the credibility of our entire country and its ruling class. By dropping charges on the strength of a popular outcry, the NPA would maintain a cloud of suspicion over the name of Mr Zuma which will reflect on the whole of our country.
I objected to Mr Zuma being tried by the media, as he has too often been. Until a court of law has spoken, no one can judge him guilty and – under our Constitution – he must be presumed innocent. Nevertheless, one cannot ignore the outcome of the trial by the media and the verdict which now exists in public opinion both domestically and internationally. Each person has reached his own conclusion on this matter which, unfortunately, will now remain untested without a judicial trial.
This is bound to be a major precedent-setting event and no one can tell what its implications and applications are going to be. Does this mean that highly popular people ought not to be prosecuted for their alleged crimes and that the NPA should focus its prosecuting discretion against those whom the public at large does not like?
There has been a great deal of discussion about our ailing criminal justice system and it may very well be that this action has concretised in the minds of the general public how bad the situation really is.
The man on the street may not have been able to follow the great intricacies which accompany the charges against Mr Zuma. Most people do not understand how charges were pressed, then dropped, then pressed again and why so many courts, including the Constitutional Court, had to pronounce judgement on this matter.
In fact, when a court rendered a decision leading to charges being dropped, many people mistakenly believed that Mr Zuma had been found innocent; a misunderstanding that his supporters often fomented by rallying as if the various technicalities which got him off the hook had vindicated his innocence.
But we have now reached a point where this latest step is clear to the man on the street, who has no problems in understanding that there were many charges of fraud and corruption against Mr Zuma and that the NPA consulted with a bunch of people, mainly his supporters, and – as a consequence thereof – they decided to drop all the charges.
Confronted with this, the general public now knows that the system is rotten and justice really depends on who you are, who you know and who supports you. The message has gone out loud and clear: there is no real justice in our country.
The damage this has caused to our collective effort to curb crime, instil a culture of legality and build a society based on the principle of equality, is unimaginable. We will feel its repercussions for many years to come. I cannot think what could be done in the future to redress the image which is now imprinted in people's minds.
No matter how many criminals are convicted and no matter how efficient the system of criminal law might become, people will remember that Mr Zuma was allowed to avoid facing justice. And they will wonder why they too should not be able to take the blindfold off Lady Justice's eyes and rip from her hands both her sword and her scales.
Yours in the service of our nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
President of the Inkatha Freedom Party