It seems almost inconceivable that 26 months after 34 people were shot dead in cold blood, some of it caught on camera, not a single person has been on trial for the Marikana massacre. President Jacob Zuma apparently believes corruption is only a crime in a “Western paradigm”. He will also not pay back the money because he says he did not ask for the security upgrades at Nkandla. And now, Oscar Pistorius could be sentenced to house arrest and community service for killing Reeva Steenkamp. Is South Africa a country where you are held accountable for your actions or is the system malleable to suit the rich and powerful? By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
On the face of it, President Jacob Zuma and convicted paralympian Oscar Pistorius have little in common. Their life stories and role in society could not be more different. In an article in April this year, author Mark Gevisser wrote how they both milked the role of underdog.
“From an Afrikaner Calvinist tradition, Pistorius offers a story of triumph over adversity through God-fearing hard work. Then Zuma, from a poor rural Zulu and working-class township background, presents a narrative of the cunning trickster with little formal education who always finds himself on his feet and takes what he needs with a nudge and a wink.
“Both men have been breathtaking in their perseverance and achievement. Zuma stopped a bloody civil war in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal. And, as an undereducated peasant who has risen to the very top, he stands as a symbol to black South Africans that they can be masters of their own destiny. Similarly, Pistorius transforms our understanding of what ‘able-bodied’ means, even in the way he strides up to the dock,” Gevisser wrote.
The two men are putting the South African justice system to the test. Zuma has been doing so for several years, through the corruption charges that seem to be forever lingering over him, to a sensational rape trial that made his sexual conduct a national talking point. Now the Democratic Alliance is engaged in a process to test whether the dropping of the corruption case against Zuma in 2009 was legally sound. That process has unearthed a plethora of information and documents related to the trial, which, with each passing week reveal more of the politics and desperation that engulfed both those behind Zuma’s prosecution and those defending him.
City Press revealed on Sunday that according to written representations to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), Zuma’s legal team argued that a “Western paradigm” branded the accusations of corruption against him as criminal and in any event, this was a crime where there are “no victims”.
Zuma’s defence throughout has been that there was a political conspiracy against him and he was therefore being pursued by people in the NPA with devious motives. It was quite astounding to discover that he did not in fact appreciate the seriousness of the charges against him and explained it away as being irrelevant to the South African context.
As president of the republic now, the belief that corruption is a victimless crime surely undermines anything Zuma has to say about the abuse of the state and positions of power for corrupt purposes. When these representations were submitted, it was shortly before the 2009 national elections that saw Zuma become president. Did Zuma and his legal team genuinely believe that their arguments would never become public or did they believe that a different set of rules would apply to him and those over whom he would preside as president?
In the wake of these revelations about the contents of Zuma’s representations to the NPA, the presidency has chosen to remain silent. They have not confirmed whether the allegations are true and whether they still represent the views of the president. The ANC has also not commented on the matter. They already have their hands full trying to defend Zuma on the Nkandla upgrades, and to protect him from having to answer questions or pay back the money for undue benefits he received.
The strategy adopted by ANC MPs serving on the Nkandla ad hoc committee was almost to paint Zuma as the victim of circumstance. He should not be summoned before the committee to answer questions as he had not been consulted about the upgrades and he should not be made to pay the money because he did not know what the costs were. Instead of demanding accountability, South Africa should feel sorry for the president.
The psychologist testifying in mitigation of sentence in the Oscar Pistorius trial on Monday left one similarly thunderstruck in her belief that Pistorius had already suffered for his deeds. Pistorius was found guilty of culpable homicide last month. Lore Hartzenberg, who provided trauma counselling to Pistorius after he shot and killed Reeva Steenkamp on 14 February 2013, told the court that the athlete was a “broken man” who lost his career, his relationship with Steenkamp and his friends as a result of the shooting.
“His opportunity for healing was destroyed by the malevolent media reports and public comments,” she said. “The flashbacks and the re-experiencing of the shooting will be mental images that he will carry with him.”
“We are left with a broken man who has lost everything,” said Hartzenberg.
It is almost as if Pistorius was not the man with the gun in his hand, just as Zuma is not the homeowner who will benefit from state-funded upgrades at his private home. They are the broken men that the system must excuse because they should not be allowed to suffer the consequences of their actions.
The defence team’s second witness from the Department of Correctional Services, Joel Maringa, recommended a sentence of three years house arrest for Pistorius, with 16 hours community service a month. Maringa said Pistorius could benefit from correctional supervision because of his good, “socially acceptable” behaviour. He said house arrest was as “harsh” as jail time, which is an astounding comparison between being locked up in a prison cell and being able to sleep in his bed and wander around the luxury mansion where Pistorius currently lives.
“We are basically saying that he should not be destroyed because he will still be coming back into the community,” Maringa said.
What then is his punishment for ending someone’s life through violent means? This seems not to be a major consideration.
The defence’s third witness on Monday was Pistorius’s manager Peet van Zyl who presented the athlete’s catalogue of charity work, which ranged from Unicef’s campaigns with disabled children to fundraising for terminally ill children through Reach for a Dream. According to Van Zyl, Pistorius’s altruism even extended to allowing people in “civilised countries” to take pictures with him.
Judge Thokozile Masipa still has more witness testimony to listen to from the defence and the state before deciding on an appropriate sentence for Pistorius. The athlete has already been convicted on the least serious charge he could face for killing Steenkamp. From the evidence led so far in the sentencing hearing, it would seem that the justice system is being asked to be more lenient towards him because of the trauma he has already suffered for shooting his girlfriend dead and because he can still make a positive contribution to society, through, among other things, cleaning a museum twice a month.
Does it matter if Zuma and Pistorius are let off lightly? Does it harm our society if they are not made to face the consequences of their actions – and inactions in Zuma’s case? Is justice being done and being seen to be done?
These are the questions our society must answer. Both of these men are at the top of the food chain in a country that is battling with crime, violence and abuse of the state. If they are not held to account, why should policemen firing at protesters on instructions from their commanders be made to do so? Why should anyone?
Our society needs to be able to tell wrong from right. And with that, we need to distinguish the victims from the wrongdoers. In order to keep our moral compass pointing due north, we also need to be able to decipher genuine remorse from manipulation of the system.
That’s how we determine our own South African paradigm. DM
Photo: Oscar Pistorius (EPA), President Jacob Zuma (Greg Nicolson)