A SOUTH African court ruling may have cleared the way on Tuesday for presidential hopeful Jacob Zuma to face corruption charges again, the latest twist in a political drama gripping the country.
In the run-up to the African Natio
nal Congress’ December conference to pick the next ruling party leader, South Africans are daily faced with reports that implicate members of the political elite in crimes ranging from graft to accessory to murder after the fact.
The government, meanwhile, has been largely silent on the reports leading to speculation that the suspension of the chief national prosecutor, a reported arrest warrant for the country’s top policeman, and the Zuma case are part of a long-running power struggle between President Thabo Mbeki and Zuma.
Mbeki, who cannot run for the state presidency again, has hinted he would try to retain his ANC leadership post in December. Zuma is his main challenger for the job, which traditionally leads to the national presidency.
“It’s unsettling because it feels like it is being decided on the latest legal turns. It feels like a crowd watching a tennis match,” said independent political analyst Nic Borain.
“This suggests it could go down to the last wire, which is unusual for the ANC.”
Public pressure has been mounting on Mbeki to explain why he suspended Vusi Pikoli as head of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) last week and for the government to definitively say whether an arrest warrant has been issued for police chief Jackie Selebi on allegations of ties to criminal syndicates.
A government spokesman has denied media reports that have suggested the suspension was tied to Pikoli’s investigation of Selebi, who Mbeki has publicly defended in the past and whose elite Scorpions investigation unit was pursuing the corruption case against Zuma.
While the Schabir Shaik ruling may increase pressure on Zuma and work in Mbeki’s favour, the Selebi case has revived accusations that the president is using state institutions to purge opponents ahead of the ANC conference, which he denies.
On Tuesday the latest headline in the story came from a Johannesburg court where Zuma’s former financial advisor Shaik lost a final appeal against fraud and corruption charges and a 15-year prison sentence. In 2005, he was found guilty of trying to solicit a R500 000 a year bribe for Zuma from a French company in return for protecting it from an arms deal investigation.
Another corruption count said Shaik had paid Zuma R1,3 million in bribes to induce him to use his political influence to further Shaik’s business interests. Prosecutors filed charges against Zuma himself, accusing him of receiving bribes from the company, but the case was dropped on a technicality. An investigation has been reopened that could see Zuma recharged.
Mbeki fired Zuma from his job as deputy national president in 2005 after he was implicated in the corruption scandal, and that sparked a rivalry that has dominated the ANC, which faces some of the worst infighting since it led the country to its first multi-racial elections in 1994.
Selebi, a powerful figure in the ANC, could prove to be a strategic ally for Mbeki as he manoeuvres in the party leadership battle.
South Africa’s Sunday Times has reported there was a warrant for Selebi on charges including racketeering and corruption, allegedly related to his ties to businessman Glenn Agliotti.
Agliotti is accused of participating in mining magnate Brett Kebble’s murder, the Times said.
Agliotti denies the accusation and Selebi denies any financial links or knowledge of Agliotti’s alleged underworld connections.
The government has not disclosed whether a warrant exists, but the NPA said in a statement on Tuesday its acting director would review the Selebi case and decide whether to prosecute. — Reuters.