Tuesday, January 13, 2009


By Peter Biles
BBC Southern Africa correspondent

On the eve of Monday's ruling by the Supreme Court of Appeal, South Africa's weekly City Press newspaper ran a headline: "Nothing Can Stop Zuma".

Jacob Zuma at the launch of his campaign (10.1.09)
Charges against Jacob Zuma will overshadow his campaign

The paper, which has a largely black readership, encapsulated the mood in many quarters that the Appeal Court judgement will have no effect on the march by the ANC leader to become the country's next president.

The African National Congress and its political allies are standing firmly behind Jacob Zuma, in spite of the legal uncertainties thrown up by the Appeal Court when it overturned Judge Chris Nicholson's dismissal of the charges against Mr Zuma last September.

At last Saturday's ANC election manifesto launch, speaker after speaker pledged support for Mr Zuma, and promised to be at his side on the road to the Union Buildings in Pretoria where he is expected to ascend to the presidency after the forthcoming general election.

"We're prepared to do everything in our power to defend Jacob Zuma," said Julius Malema of the ANC Youth League, reviving memories of controversial remarks he made last year when he said people were "prepared to take up arms and kill for Zuma".

However, the reinstatement of the charges of corruption, fraud, racketeering and money-laundering against Jacob Zuma are certain to be an unwelcome distraction for the ANC president during the election campaign.

The ANC is facing a significant challenge from the newly-formed Congress of the People (Cope) which has emerged from bitter in-fighting within the ANC over the past three years.

The ruling party is going to have to work hard for every vote in this year's elections, in the knowledge that it could easily lose its two-thirds majority in parliament.

Not since it took power in 1994 has the ANC faced such a test from the ranks of the opposition. Political analyst Steven Friedman says Jacob Zuma is the frontrunner to become the next president of the country.

"Some in the ANC leadership would prefer not to have to support Zuma. But as we draw closer to the elections, Zuma's position is strengthening all the time," he said. "The ANC will try to make the corruption charges go away politically. One way is to appoint a national director of public prosecutions who won't prosecute Zuma. "Another way is to… pass a parliamentary resolution indemnifying Zuma. If we get to a situation where Zuma is president and facing charges, there will be an attempt to make this go away politically."

A date for the elections has still to be announced, but the Johannesburg-based newspaper The Star says 15 April is one possibility. What is not in doubt is that unofficial campaigning has already begun.

"We are now fully in election mode," says ANC spokesman Carl Niehaus. "We respect the law and the decisions of our courts, but at the same time the ANC will vigorously exert its right to have Jacob Zuma as our candidate (for president). "It is our right in terms of freedom of association and does not impact in any way on the legal processes," he added.

The ANC is certain to win at the polls, albeit with a reduced majority.

However, the corruption charges against Jacob Zuma have not yet gone away in the manner in which the ANC leader might have hoped. That makes an appeal to the Constitutional Court, and an application for a permanent stay of prosecution, increasingly likely.

Jacob Zuma was spot on when he told a gala dinner in East London last Friday: "This year's election campaign will be robust and interesting."



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