The Dawning Of The Age Of Responsibility

by | Mar 14, 2009 | Public Service | 0 comments

If one takes into account that the economy of the United States is about 100 times the size of the South African economy, that the World Bank has its tentacles in every nook and cranny of the global economy and that South Africa is part of that global economy, then it is plain that it is important to pay attention to the directions available to us as a nation and to see what a state of reversal would involve should we elect not to embrace the era of responsibility that the new President of the dominant country in the world advocates.
It would appear that a response to the global economic meltdown that involves protectionist policies, a retreat from involvement in the globalized forms of trade and commerce that the World Bank seeks to facilitate through its activities in the financing of economies that need and ask for its assistance, is what is under consideration when the term “age of reversal” is employed. The sustainability and viability of our global village are at stake.
In South Africa mixed messages emerge. Thabo Mbeki’s biographer, Mark Gevisser, has recorded, pre-Polokwane, the distress of Mbeki at the prospect of being succeeded by Jacob Zuma. According to Gevisser, (page xli of “The Dream Deferred”) there is a belief in the Mbeki camp, (one shared by others, notably COPE), that the play for the presidency by Zuma is part of a strategy to avoid being prosecuted on multiple serious charges ranging from corruption to tax evasion. Gevisser goes further to say:
“Mbeki allegedly worried that Zuma and his backers had no respect for the rule of law, and would be unaccountable to the constitutional dispensation the ANC had put in place if they came to power. There was also the worry of the resurgence of ethnic politics, and – given his support from the left – that Zuma’s leftist advisors would undo all the meticulous stitching of South Africa into the global economy that Mbeki and his economic managers had undertaken over 15 years.”
Yet the budget presented by Trevor Manuel in a post Mbeki parliament last month is clearly a “steady as she goes” affair with some much needed fiscal stimulation and no visible signs of “unstitching” from the world economy. If anything, there are more marked signs of protectionism elsewhere in the world. South Africa is due to host the biggest sports spectacle in the world next year. It’s success depends on the willingness of a wide range of supporters and sponsors to involve themselves in the event whole-heartedly. This will not happen if South Africa displays signs of the regression that goes with reversal. Killing geese that lay golden eggs for tourism income and trade opportunities is not the style which the world has come to expect of Trevor Manuel.
But will he be Finance Minister in a Zuma cabinet? It seems unlikely. The banks, other than ABSA, will surely feel he is in a conflict of interest situation by reason of his marriage to Maria Ramos, the new CEO of ABSA. He has also served in his present capacity longer than any other Finance Minister currently in office. There have been rumblings and rumours about his successor and about the desirability of his becoming Deputy President after the 22 April elections.
There are also question marks over the prospects of Zuma himself succeeding in his ambitions. Helen Zille, leader of the official opposition, has let it be known that she considers that Zuma himself has an irreconcilable conflict of interest of his own. This relates to the untenably tricky situation he will find himself in should it come to pass that he is head of state, head of the executive and accused of serious crimes before the courts of the land all at the same time. This is inevitable, whether by way of the state continuing with the case at present pending in the Pietermaritzburg High Court and set down for hearing in August 2009, or by way of a private prosecution, which is sure to be mounted by concerned citizens should the National Prosecuting Authority decide not to proceed in the light of representations recently made to it by the legal team which acts for Zuma.
The allegation of conflict of interest is likely to play itself out in the Courts, whatever ruling the presiding judge at the election makes, as Zuma seems to be determined to press ahead with his candidacy and his party, so far, seems inclined to support him, some to the extent that they are willing to “shoot to kill for Zuma”. [This is a sure sign of reversal if ever there was one.] The point will probably be taken, when the new Parliament convenes to elect the new president that it would be illegal to elect Zuma because of the irreconcilable conflict of interest he faces: playing striker for the State and goalkeeper for the Accused as Zille aptly put it. The Chief Justice, or a judge designated by him, presides at that election and will have to deal with objections made by opposition parties to Zuma’s candidacy. The expected majority in the National Assembly, which elects the President from among its members, will follow the instructions of Luthuli House on this issue. Expect the cry to ring out: “Innocent until proved guilty” as though that has anything to do with the conflict of interest or with the eligibility of the candidate for the highest office in the land, one in which the Constitution prescribes a host of duties, responsibilities and obligations which do not apply to anyone else in the country. These are incompatible with the rights of an accused person fighting for his freedom technical point by point, as he is entitled to do.
So it is likely that the objections to the eligibility of Zuma will be brushed aside on the “might is right” basis that the ANC is increasingly embracing in the post-Polokwane era. [Best exemplified by the demise of the Scorpions and the treatment of Vusi Pikoli, these are further symptoms of reversal.] Fortunately, the Constitution makes it crystal clear that might is not necessarily right. It specifies that conduct which is inconsistent with the Constitution (and by implication, the rule of law) is invalid. An invalid pro-Zuma vote in the presidential election stakes could accordingly be struck down as unmindful of an untenable conflict of interest situation which is not countenanced in law. For so long as he faces and fights charges against him, whether brought by the National Prosecuting Authority or by way of private prosecution, the Courts could rule him ineligible to hold the office of President. If the ANC persists in punting Zuma as its presidential candidate, this is the possible scenario that it must plan for. At a more fundamental level it has to decide whether it will embrace the age of responsibility or the regression implicit in an age of reversal. The latter choice is clearly made if it persists in the candidacy of Jacob Zuma for president. Lets all hope that responsibility prevails; the ANC, as Zuma has acknowledged, does have other, less compromised, candidates available.
Paul Hoffman SC
Institute for Accountability
14 March 2009.

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