South Africa Court Set to Rule on Jacob Zuma, and an Era of Impunity


JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — For almost three years, South African investigators have been unearthing an online of corruption across the former president, Jacob Zuma, in a public inquiry that has captivated the nation.

There had been bribes paid in top-shelf whiskey, luxurious automobiles and a cash-stuffed Louis Vuitton bag. High-ranking officers distributed profitable authorities contracts in alternate for month-to-month handouts. That period of graft drained tens of billions of {dollars} from state coffers and has develop into one of essentially the most notorious chapters of South Africa’s post-apartheid historical past.

Now, the nation’s highest court docket will decide whether or not Mr. Zuma will be held accountable for contempt of court docket, and for an period of consequence-free corruption, in a listening to that represents one of the best exams for South Africa’s democratic establishments in recent times.

“This is an absolutely critical moment: The principle that all people will be equal before the law is being challenged and the constitutional system itself is being challenged,” mentioned William Gumede, chairman of the Democracy Works Foundation, a South African nonprofit group. “Essentially, the former president is saying he is above the law of the country, he is above the Constitution, he is untouchable.”

The listening to earlier than the Constitutional Court on Thursday comes a month after Mr. Zuma defied a court order to seem earlier than corruption investigators, a transfer that challenged the legitimacy of South Africa’s authorized system and prompted the chief investigator to search a two-year jail sentence for Mr. Zuma for contempt of court docket.

The Constitutional Court is unlikely to impose such a harsh sentence when the decision is introduced within the coming weeks. Doing so might set off mass protests by supporters of Mr. Zuma and destabilize the nation because it reels from the worst coronavirus outbreak on the continent, an financial system battered by the pandemic and record-high unemployment.

Nonetheless, the listening to itself is seen as an necessary second for South Africa, which has been plagued with corruption over the past decade, with few officers held accountable.

The case has additionally underscored the challenges going through the African National Congress, the celebration of Nelson Mandela that has ruled the nation because the finish of apartheid in 1994. During Mr. Zuma’s nine-year tenure, the party became consumed by corruption scandals that tarnished its picture and sparked public outrage over mismanagement.

After Mr. Zuma was ousted from the presidency in 2018, the A.N.C. turned more and more polarized between loyalists of the previous president and supporters of his successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, who vowed to crack down on corruption and restore the general public’s confidence.

Fierce resistance to Mr. Ramaphosa’s efforts from inside the A.N.C. have solid severe doubts over his capability to ship on that promise.

But the excessive court docket listening to on Thursday would be the starting of a turning level, analysts say. Not solely does Mr. Zuma face a potential jail sentence from the end result, however he can even stand trial in May for allegations that he took bribes from arms dealers in the 1990s.

“For 15 years or more, Jacob Zuma has been using the strength of the South African court system to put off his day in court” by interesting instances in opposition to him, mentioned Richard Calland, a constitutional regulation professor on the University of Cape Town. “But he is now running out of legal runway. This is the moment where he finally meets his Waterloo legally.”

Mr. Zuma has denied all allegations from each instances. In latest months, he has additionally accused the corruption inquiry’s chief, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, of harboring a private vendetta in opposition to him, and attacked the investigation itself.

Established in 2018, the investigation is called the Commission on State Capture, a time period that has develop into a buzzword in South Africa and refers to corruption at such a excessive stage that non-public teams successfully bought the ability to divert state sources into their very own palms.

So far the fee has interviewed more than 250 witnesses in televised hearings which have develop into a telenovela of types in regards to the nation’s deep-seated corruption. It is anticipated to finish in June, and ship a report to South African officers that would embrace strategies for prosecution.

Taken collectively, the testimonies paint a damning portrait of post-apartheid South Africa the place relationships between former freedom fighters in enterprise and authorities reworked into felony enterprises and elites manipulated efforts designed to shift financial energy from the nation’s white minority to Black South Africans to line their very own pockets.

At least 40 witnesses have straight implicated Mr. Zuma in preparations to plunder tens of tens of millions of {dollars} from state corporations. In whole, an estimated $33 billion was siphoned from state coffers throughout his tenure, which led to 2018 amid public outrage over graft and bitter infighting inside the governing celebration.



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