“No, you can’t always get what you want; You can’t always get what you want; You can’t always get what you want; But if you try sometime, you find; You get what you need…” – ‘You can’t always get what you want’, written by Keith Richards and Mick Jagger.
It’s been a long, hard and expensive slog, but next week former president Jacob Zuma will finally get what he’s always wanted: his day in court.
On Friday the High Court in Pietermaritzburg gave a muscular smack to Zuma and his nigh on 16-year personal struggle to stay out of jail when it emphatically and finally rejected his arguments about political interference and prejudice because of delays in prosecution.
This means that Zuma will from next week stand trial on one count of racketeering, four counts of corruption and one count of money laundering related to bribes paid in government’s strategic arms procurement package, commonly known as the arms deal, dating back to the early years of South Africa’s democracy.
This is of course if he doesn’t apply for leave to appeal.
Zuma has now used and abused every single avenue in this country’s legal system to avoid prosecution. He has connived, manipulated and gerrymandered his way through the ANC presidency, the Presidency, the country’s courts and government institutions for two decades. Along the way he has destroyed institutions, weakened democracy, undermined the rule of law and enabled grand corruption and impunity.
The High Court on Friday has however brought down the curtain on the charade Zuma has been directing, so ably assisted over the years by his legal loyalists Kemp J. Kemp, Michael Hulley and his hand-picked iron guard of Mokotedi Mpshe, Menzi Simelane, Shaun Abrahams and others.
Much has been made of Zuma’s Stalingrad legal strategy, of fighting street by street and house by house. It could easily have been equated to Lord Kitchener of Khartoum’s “scorched Earth” strategy in the South African War of 1899 to 1902. Kitchener, in his attempt to deny his opponents any place to hide, simply burnt everything in sight to the ground.
Zuma’s political strategy was scorched Earth. Once Mpshe dropped the charges in April 2009 and the ANC installed him as president, notwithstanding his questionable and corrupt character, he obliterated every and any law enforcement institution that could touch him. First the Scorpions were destroyed, then the police, the Hawks, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the South African Revenue Service (SARS) … all were subjugated, infiltrated and decimated.
But the country’s courts held firm. And it was the doggedness of the DA’s Helen Zille and James Selfe which led to the release of the so-called spy tapes and the courts’ eventual decision that charges against Zuma must be reinstated.
The main planks of Zuma’s defence over the years have been that the decision to charge him was manipulated because the then-head of the Scorpions, Leonard McCarthy, wanted to inflict maximum political damage after the ANC’s Polokwane conference. And, bizarrely, that all these years of litigation and delays have in effect denied him justice.
But those arguments made no impression on the full Bench in KwaZulu-Natal.
On McCarthy, the court cited an earlier judgment by the Supreme Court of Appeal and said, “…even if one accepts that Mr McCarthy had an ulterior purpose in seeking to have the indictment served after the conference, his conduct had no bearing on the integrity of the investigation of the case against Mr Zuma and did not impact on the prosecution itself.”
And that’s been the contention of the prosecuting team all along, even though there were fears that the legal waters had been muddied: there was no causal link between the integrity of the investigation and the evidence it unearthed and McCarthy’s manipulation.
As far as Zuma’s gnashing of teeth and crushing of bones about his denial of swift justice were concerned, the court also gave it short shrift: “The seriousness of the offences that Mr Zuma is facing outweighs any prejudice, which he claims he will suffer if the trial proceeds. Furthermore, the reputational harm, which he claims to have suffered, goes hand in hand with being charged.
“In any event, this does not seem to have prevented him from ascending to the highest office in the country, being the President of the Republic.”
Zuma has dodged and bobbed and weaved his way around and through his corruption charges for more than a decade. But his time has now come, and this country’s judiciary will be called upon to deliver judgment on someone who once held the highest office in the land.
The Rolling Stones’ Jagger and Richards lamented that sometimes you don’t get what you want. Because that’s just how life is. But Zuma, who besides allegedly taking money as a bribe also presided over state capture, will now get what he’s always wanted.
As per the court: “Accordingly, the decision of the SCA in the DA review application paved the way for Mr Zuma to have his day in court, something which he is alleged to have expressed.”
Zuma will get what he wants. And South Africa will get what it needs: a corruption trial.