ANC President Jacob Zuma, a man famous for easy speech and a ready song, was yesterday "emotional" and "speechless" when the charges against him were dropped. He was evidently relieved that he was finally "cleared" of the cloud of corruption allegations that have dogged him for years now.
But the dubious manner in which the corruption charges against Mr Zuma were cancelled is unlikely to clear his name, or restore his credibility. In fact, it is likely to further undermine him. Only defending himself fully in court will restore his reputation, and that of the ANC.
Twice now, South Africa's "Teflon" politician has been cleared of corruption charges on procedural or technical grounds. But when prosecutor Mokotedi Mpshe dropped the charges yesterday, he made it clear that their substance has not been challenged.
Mr Mpshe said the case against Mr Zuma was dropped because a prosecutor appeared to have taken political instructions from opponents of the ANC president.
But the transcripts of the conversations do not prove his innocence. Surely the prosecuting authorities should have allowed the courts to pronounce whether they could be trusted.
Simply put, they seem to have buckled under the pressure. In 2006, Mr Zuma's lawyer, Kemp J Kemp, outlined the ANC president's scorched-earth political and legal strategy to quash his corruption charges: "We [will] fight them in every room and in every street."
This meant Zuma supporters almost daily attacked the media, the judiciary and prosecuting authorities, marching against them, and portraying them as "counter-revolutionary" or as the "enemy" that must be eliminated, to intimidate them into submission.
It appeared that for Mr Zuma and his backers, it did not matter whether democratic institutions were battered in the process, their priority was to quash the corruption charges.
The way in which the prosecution has crumbled under the pressure suggests that that strategy was successful. The credibility of South Africa's prosecuting authorities is now also in tatters. ANC leaders who celebrated Zuma's acquittal do not appear interested in the damage done to South Africa's democratic institutions. If Mr Zuma wins the elections on 22 April, which is more than likely given the paucity of the opposition, he will have presidential power, but he will lack the moral authority to go with it.
William Gumede is the author of the forthcoming book, 'The Democracy Gap: Africa's Wasted Years' (Zed Books)Reuse content