William M Gumede: Whatever the outcome, the biggest loser will be South Africa itself

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As Jacob Zuma seeks to have 16 corruption, fraud and money-laundering charges against him dismissed, the biggest loser already is South Africa's democracy, institutions and constitutional system.

If the Pietermaritzburg High Court throws out the Zuma case, his path to become the next president of South Africa is cleared. Yet, the manner in which Mr Zuma has gone about trying to have his prosecution quashed is troubling.

He has pursued a "Stalingrad" political and legal strategy, described by his advocate Kemp J Kemp as "we (will) fight them (the corruption charges) in every room and in every street". The battle aims to exhaust every legal route to have the charges thrown out. The next step is to ensure the case is delayed until after next year's general election, when Mr Zuma may have been elected president of South Africa. He would then have the power to amend the constitution to give immunity from prosecution to a sitting president. If he loses the battle of Pietermaritzburg, he will appeal again. The delays in his case have much to do with Mr Zuma's long list of legal appeals to have the case against him thrown out. Another worrying aspect is that ANC has given Mr Zuma its full backing, insisting they won't accept any outcome other than the case being dropped. A key part of Mr Zuma's strategy has been to argue there is a political conspiracy against him which includes elements of the judiciary, the media, prosecuting authorities, the ANC and South African President Thabo Mbeki. Mr Zuma and his supporters have almost daily attacked them, portraying them as the "enemy" that must be eliminated. This strategy is meant to prepare his supporters for a court verdict that goes against him – which would then be "popularly" rejected as flawed. In court papers deposited at the Pietermaritzburg High Court, Mr Zuma has charged that there is a political conspiracy against him but conceded he has no evidence. His supporters wonder why he is being "targeted" for prosecution on corruption, while supposedly bigger fish are not. Yet, as the former deputy president of South Africa, and now the ANC president, there cannot be a catch bigger than Mr Zuma, whose successful prosecution would send the message that corruption won't be tolerated, irrespective of how powerful the person.

W M Gumede is author of the book "Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC"

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