What Zuma doesn’t tell his blind followers

President Jacob Zuma
Former president Jacob Zuma

Conspiracy and more conspiracy. That’s what one heard when former president Jacob Zuma addressed throngs of his supporters who came to support him as he faced corruption, fraud and money laundering charges in the Durban High Court on Friday.

Zuma a known tactician and chess player, who has studied his audience very well painted himself as a victim of a conspiracy within the ANC; a conspiracy that was designed to prevent him from ascending to the highest office in the land. It is not the first time he has done so, and this appeal to victimhood was his strategy even when he was the most powerful person in South Africa.

Dwelling much on the 2008 ruling by Judge Chris Nicholson, Zuma cited some of the findings to show how his comrades meddled in the National Prosecuting Authority’s processes to prevent him from rising to the helm at the ANC’s Polokwane conference. As he recounted Nicholson’s judgment to boost his argument and seek sympathy, the crowd cheered in agreement. Even Carl Niehaus who was standing behind him seemed to understand Zuma’s deep isiZulu, if his nods were anything to go by.

But there is something Zuma did not tell the crowd about the Nicholson judgment. This omission was a clear indication that he wanted his supporters to know only that their hero was a victim of a conspiracy by comrades whose hatred of him made them do anything they could to ensure he was jailed for something he “did not do”.

In fact, a full Bench of the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in Bloemfontein overturned Nicholson’s judgment the one Zuma quoted extensively from.

The appeal judges said of the functions of a judge: “It is crucial to provide an exposition of the functions of a judicial officer because, for reasons that are impossible to fathom, the court below failed to adhere to some basic tenets, in particular that, in exercising the judicial function, judges are themselves constrained by the law.”

On the independence of the judiciary, the SCA said: “This commendable approach was unfortunately subverted by a failure to confine the judgment to the issues before the court; by deciding matters that were not germane or relevant; by creating new factual issues; by making gratuitous findings against persons who were not called upon to defend themselves; by failing to distinguish between allegation, fact and suspicion; and by transgressing the proper boundaries between judicial, executive and legislative functions

They added: “Judges, as members of civil society, are entitled to hold views about issues of the day and they may express their views, provided they do not compromise their judicial office. But they are not entitled to inject their personal views into judgments or express their political preferences.”

While aware of this judgment, Zuma felt his audience shouldn’t be reminded that a lower court’s judgment can be overturned by a higher court. That’s what happened with the Nicholson ruling and, by selectively quoting from it to feed the audience, Zuma played on their emotions to project himself as a victim of a conspiracy.

At the rate the case is going, we may not even get to hear why Zuma was in court on Friday that he is accused of soliciting a bribe that was facilitated by his then financial adviser and now convicted fraudster Schabir Shaik