Zuma leaps out of the ashes

Pietermaritzburg High Court Judge Herbert Msimang struck the state’s case against Zuma and arms dealer Thint off the court’s roll last week, effectively letting Zuma off the hook in a case that has haunted the ANC deputy president for almost three years.

The Judge said the state had botched its case against Zuma and failed to gather evidence or follow proper procedures.

“There were clear guidelines which should have informed their decision to proceed. They ignored those guidelines at their own peril,” Msimang said.

However, despite speculation that Zuma’s newfound freedom would boost his chances of being elected to the ANC and national presidency, observers and individuals believe his road to the top is not entirely free of stumbling blocks.

“The decision by the court definitely strengthens his chances, as he can now concentrate completely on his leadership campaign and the past few weeks have shown that he has considerable support, but first of all the case is not completely over, and secondly perceptions about his abilities will play a big role come election time,” political analyst Adam Habib said.

Although Msimang struck the state’s case off the role, the prosecution believes it still has a chance of bringing charges against Zuma. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said it would now take the time to strengthen its case.

“The NPA is obviously disappointed with this decision but’ it does not detract from the strength of the case or the ability of the NPA to bring the matter to trial when the various issues delaying trial have been resolved,” NPA spokesman Makhosini Nkosi said.

Questions are also still flying regarding Zuma’s leadership abilities, with members of the public questioning Zuma’s moral fibre and his technical aptitude as the presidential race hots up.

“There is no way we turn our backs on the fact that Zuma’s moral standards have come into question more often than not in the past three years’from the business or personal relationships that he has to his dealings. Such a character cannot be a good leader,” said analyst Tshegofatso Riba.

According to another political analyst, Dirk Kotze, perceptions about Zuma’s abilities and his “shady dealings” will haunt Zuma throughout his campaign process.

“(Zuma) may have been able to get free in court, but it is the perceptions in people’s minds that they will consider come election day and that is what Zuma must fight to correct.

“He must address the issue of how people think about him and make sure that it is positive,” Kotze said.

Political parties have been predictably divided in their responses to the court reprieve, with opposition party members insistent that the case was “not over”, while ANC, SACP and Cosatu members were “overjoyed” that the case had been scrapped.

Cosatu expressed strong support for Zuma at the beginning of its annual conference on Monday and members burst into jubilant song on hearing Msimang’s decision.

The labour movement has been a strong force behind Zuma throughout his run-ins with the law, and has publicly stated its backing of Zuma as presidential candidate.

On the other hand, the opposition movements believe the axing of the corruption trial will do nothing to boost Zuma’s chances of taking over the presidency.

At recent meetings of Cosatu and the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) two weeks ago Zuma criticized the government’s labour and HIV/Aids policies, and called on workers to increase their influence within the ANC and SACP.

The statements are believed to be deliberately aimed at increasing Zuma’s influence within the parties through the backing of the labour movement, which has been one of his strongest backers.

The race for the successor to President Thabo Mbeki has gradually gained momentum, as Mbeki prepares to leave ANC office at the end of next year and the national presidency in 2009.

Fears of a “leadership crisis” within the country have led many to speculate over potential leaders, though a clear leader is yet to emerge in the succession race.

In the meantime, Zuma has sought to assure the nation that “all will be ok” after Mbeki leaves office.

September 2006
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