Few will seriously doubt that the criminal charges brought against former party youth leader Julius Malema are part of a calculated African National Congress strategy to neuter President Jacob Zuma’s bête noire. And so what?

The issue is not whether the process of bringing charges is politically motivated. It is whether the charges are political. They are not. They are for common criminal acts of fraud and corruption.

Of course, ideally there should be no government involvement in police and prosecutorial processes. These agencies should take decisions only on the basis of the facts before them.

Clearly it would be a gross abuse of state power to engineer malicious criminal actions against innocent foes of the ruling party. That is why the Constitution seeks an autonomous National Prosecuting Authority and that is why best practice decrees that one does not appoint party apparatchiks as National Police Commissioner.

The reality, however, is that while political interference in judicial processes is undesirable, it is not always unwarranted. Especially if it inadvertently rectifies the flipside of the problem: immunity from prosecution and jail for the hitherto politically favoured.

There are a number of ANC lowlifes – including, until now, Julius Malema – who were protected by the government against investigation when there were clearly grounds to interrogate their sudden immense wealth.

Despite calls for police and South African Revenue Service investigations, not only from opposition parties but also from within the ANC alliance, nothing happened. The ANC cloak of impunity had been draped over the shoulders of its favoured sons and daughters and it was clear that unless they fell out of favour, the magic force field would hold law enforcement at bay indefinitely.

Unfortunately for his own hide, Malema was too arrogant to comprehend the unwritten terms of that bargain: stay onside and on-message and you are safe; break the contract and the hellhounds of the law will be let loose. As Zuma warned at the time of Malema’s expulsion, life is cold and unkind outside the ANC. “Even the people who used to greet you in the streets will not recognise you,” were the president’s words.

It’s a Faustian pact of which Zuma has bitter personal experience. He had been shielded from the prying eyes of law enforcement while deputy to President Thabo Mbeki, despite the persistent rumours about his relationship with one Schabir Shaik. However, when Shaik was convicted of fraud and corruption, it gave Mbeki the opportunity to cut loose Zuma, whom he did not want succeeding him.

Politicians throwing their legally tainted rivals to the prosecutorial wolves when it is political expedient happens worldwide. It is nowhere near the same thing as the malicious legal harassment of the innocent through fabricated charges.

Malema, who is innocent until proven guilty, will be tried before an independent court and will be ably defended.

If the court finds that there is no case for him to answer or that the charges were fabricated, the proceedings will be halted and he will undoubtedly extract from the state a fat damages settlement. If there proves to have been politically motivated chicanery, a vile attempt to stitch up an innocent man, Zuma’s presidency will be destroyed at a stroke.

Also, if found guilty, there is an appeal process to which Malema can avail himself. Not to forget the ANC’s history of generous pardons and early release on compassionate grounds.

This entire process will unfold under media scrutiny. Over the course of the coming trial the SA public will be able to decide for themselves whether it is the charges against Malema that are political, or whether it was in fact his long immunity from charges that was political.


William Saunderson-Meyer

William Saunderson-Meyer

This Jaundiced Eye column appears in Weekend Argus, The Citizen, and Independent on Saturday. WSM is also a book reviewer for the Sunday Times and Business Day....

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