Jacob Zuma and Ace Magashule are birds of a feather: both are hoping that playing politics will pull them out of the legal holes they’re in

Source: Financial Mail 

BL PREMIUM11 MARCH 2021 – 05:00 

There can be no political solution to the legal woes of the doyens of the ANC’s radical economic transformation (RET) faction.

Former president Jacob Zuma and party secretary-general Ace Magashule are hedging their bets, hoping that politics will put paid to their long-overdue reckoning with justice.

Zuma is playing chicken with the state capture commission of inquiry by refusing to appear before it unless its chair, deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, recuses himself.

Magashule is refusing to step aside from his post, despite facing 21 counts, including corruption and fraud.

But the political mileage both are seeking to rack up is fading as their legal woes deepen.

Zuma has missed an important deadline to file an answering affidavit in the contempt of court case against him, and Magashule could face calls for his suspension at the ANC’s next national executive committee (NEC) meeting.

Zuma held a seven-hour virtual meeting this week with the ANC’s top officials — President Cyril Ramaphosa, Deputy President David Mabuza, Magashule and his deputy, Jessie Duarte, treasurer Paul Mashatile and party chair Gwede Mantashe — in which he detailed how he has been “persecuted and prosecuted” by the justice system for decades.

It was probably reminiscent of Zuma’s only appearance at the Zondo commission. On that occasion, back in 2019, he detailed a three-decade plot by local and foreign intelligence to remove him from decision-making structures in the ANC because he had “information” on spies who had infiltrated the party.ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO

Zuma’s soliloquy did not have the desired effect, and he withdrew from the commission days later, after facing uncomfortable questions about state capture during his presidency.

According to Magashule’s strange account of the meeting between the ANC’s top officials and Zuma, all present agreed that SA’s constitution is an “important instrument in the lives of all South Africans”. “He [Zuma] talked about his rights as enshrined in the constitution of SA and the rights of all South Africans, and we all agreed there has not been any intention to undermine the constitution,” Magashule said.

If that were the case, adhering to the Constitutional Court ruling that Zuma should appear before Zondo would be the next logical step.

But much as Zuma says he respects the constitution, he also believes he is entitled to the “basic rights” enshrined in it, the secretary-general said.

In essence, Zuma wants to be protected by the constitution, but not abide by the rulings of the court of its creation.

Lawson Naidoo, the director of the Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution, explains the issue succinctly: there’s no political solution, he says — what Zuma faces is a simple, straightforward legal issue. And it’s not too late to resolve either — provided he commits to appearing before the commission.

While the RET faction of the ANC has sought to paint Zuma’s defiance as a potential constitutional crisis, this is not so, says Naidoo.

Zuma is not a sitting president, so his failure to abide by the court ruling cannot lead to a constitutional crisis. Rather, he will have to face the legal consequences for it. But it does create a “political crisis” for the ANC: the party’s credibility is at risk.

Magashule has a stake in this too, says Naidoo. He is likely to mirror Zuma’s strategy to make a “political statement” of victimhood when his cases come full circle. But there, too, the law simply has to take its course.

The ANC’s leaders have now agreed to give Zuma the “space” to consult his legal team about his next move. But that may be out of his hands, given that he’s now missed the deadline to file an affidavit in the commission’s contempt of court case against him. The consequence could well be two years in jail — a reality drawing decidedly closer for the man who was once the most powerful figure in the ANC.

Magashule is also on thin ice. The ANC’s last NEC meeting adopted guidelines for leaders facing formal charges to step aside. According to these, the NEC (or closest leadership structure) can suspend anyone who refuses to do so.

These guidelines have been circulated to all party structures, because they will apply from branch level upward, insiders say.

But the main stumbling block is that, according to the guidelines, the administration of the organisation — Magashule’s office, in other words — would be responsible for their implementation.


Zuma and Magashule’s political manoeuvring won’t make their legal woes disappear

Magashule’s allies are likely to use the dismissal of the first of two corruption cases against ANC MP and NEC member Bongani Bongo to oppose any bid to suspend Magashule. A special NEC meeting this weekend is set to focus on integrity commission reports — one of which is the report recommending that Magashule step aside.

His opponents will probably use the recommendation that he step aside to bolster their argument — particularly as the party is set for tough local government elections later this year.

For these elections, the ANC is likely to be judged on the credibility of its reform message, which was the centrepiece of its 2019 election campaign.

Whether Magashule steps aside or not, his corruption trial is set to start in August — just months before the elections are expected to be held.