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A victory for the courts and the Constitution: Today, i...

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Opinionista

A victory for the courts and the Constitution: Today, it feels good to be South African

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Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

Our hard-fought struggles, our pain and suffering over the decades under apartheid, make it all worthwhile on this day. We are not celebrating the fact that Jacob Zuma is going to jail — no, we are celebrating the fact that this judgment defends and upholds the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa.

Just a couple of days ago, most progressives in our country celebrated the 66th anniversary of that most revered document, the Freedom Charter. It is commonly accepted that it was this document that was to become the blueprint for our new Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Just a day afterwards, we also remembered the ultimate sacrifice made by the Cradock Four — murdered in pursuit of democracy for us all. They who were so brutally killed, limbs severed, and left unrecognisable by the apartheid regime. Until today, no one has been brought to book for this heinous crime.

There were so many others who died for us, went to prison for us, escaped into exile for us and endured the harshest and most evil sanctions from apartheid’s murderers.

These are the people who, especially today, celebrate the Constitutional Court judgment against former president Jacob Zuma.

This is a person who trampled all over the Constitution of the Republic. A person who no fewer than five times took the oath of public office, twice as the president of the country, and yet today he is told to go to jail because of the simplest of rules — no one, but no one, is above the law.

Zuma wilfully set upon this path and deserves the judgment against him.

He had been afforded ample opportunity to constructively engage with the Constitutional Court and deliberately opted not to do so. First, the court asked him to please come and make representations and apply the audi alteram partem rule — meaning to “hear both sides” of the story.

He did not take up the offer: instead, he penned a 15-page letter addressed to the Chief Justice explaining why he felt the courts and the Zondo Commission were biased in the matter before it.

The court again afforded the former president an opportunity to share his thoughts as to what he considered an appropriate sanction should he be found guilty of contempt.

He did not take up the offer. He left the court with no option but to act, and act decisively.

Today, it feels good to be South African.

It will only be downhill from here for Jacob Zuma. His corruption trial is still very much ongoing and it is clear to me that he and Thales will face justice in the end. Which will result in further sanction and/or imprisonment.

It is also a good day because the writing is on the wall: law enforcement agencies and prosecutors are coming for you wrongdoers. If you have participated in State Capture corruption, fraud and embezzlement of public funds, they are coming for you — there will be no escape.

Our hard-fought struggles, our pain and suffering over the decades under apartheid, make it all worthwhile on this day. Now, it should be made clear, we are not celebrating the fact that an individual is going to serve jail time: no, we are celebrating the fact that this judgment defends and upholds the supreme law in our land, the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa.

Napoleon once said, when asked to explain the lack of great statesmen in the world, that “to get power you need to display absolute pettiness; to exercise power you need to show true greatness”. Such pettiness and such greatness are rarely found in one person.

How true these words ring through our country today. 

Zuma indeed displayed absolute pettiness, hence the people gave him the confidence to occupy the highest office in the land — but he showed no greatness in exercising such power. Instead, he chose the path of least resistance, like many in Africa, and attempted to enrich himself and his family, along with a select few, at the expense of the people. And that’s why he finds himself in this precarious position today.

I say again, today it feels good to be South African.

It has been a long and arduous road to reach this point, where a glimmer of justice is seen to be done. When I first wrote about the nefarious activities of Jacob Zuma, immediately after his historic win at the ANC’s Polokwane conference, many a friend and foe warned me not to do so because of possible reprisals against me and others who chose to speak truth to power. But I ignored them because it was the right thing to do.

How happy I am that today, I and others have been vindicated in some small way, thanks to the Constitutional Court.

Today, it feels good to be South African.

As for concerns regarding Zuma’s presidential benefits and possibly serving a minimum period behind bars, or even receiving a presidential pardon, I say, what happened today was not an act of revenge or vengeance: no, it was a victory for good. 

Zuma is an old man but it is his arrogance that had to be dealt with in no uncertain terms, and boy, has it been dealt a blow today.

We will all afford him the necessary compassion, but we will not be apologetic for the sanction meted out to him — for that, he is solely responsible. 

Now, a warning to those who talk of war, mass protests, intimidation — come Sunday, when Zuma must hand himself over to Correctional Services, disruptions will surely be met with the full might of the state.

So, best you conform to the prescripts of the law and not make this any more difficult than it already is. Rather celebrate this momentous ruling with the majority in our land.

For today, it feels good to be South African. DM 

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  • The sentence may be a victory for those who died before the introduction of the new Constitution and Bill of Rights but it is also a victory for those who have died because of the ANC’s subversion of the same Constitution and Bill of Rights. The children who have died of hunger because the feeding scheme was corrupted; the people who died of Covid because of the widespread theft of funds earmarked for safety equipment; those still dying in our hospitals because of wide-spread theft of basic equipment; those who were left destitute by the insidious State Capture that the ANC was a crucial part of.
    So, when it comes to remembering, bear in mind those poor South Africans and the toll they continue to pay.

  • Thanks Oscar, you clarified my thinking on this – it’s a cause for celebration of our constitution, not a got him at last celebration.

  • Why did I get the impression from high level ANC evidence to Zondo that the ANC regarded the constitution as a bit of a nuisance? It obviously has been so all along. Zuma was part of that stable. Now comes ANC spinner Oscar in fulsome praises of the constitution. What about his article of only a few weeks ago, suggesting that Zuma should be pardoned?

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