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Op-eds

Zuma appearance shows tenacity of SA’s legal system

  • Geoff
South Africa’s legal system has shown its effectiveness through the dignity and thoroughness of the commission of inquiry into state capture. This should be noted by people who feel uncertain about where the country is headed. Among the many South Africans who have left the country over the years because they lack confidence in its future, there is lots to think about. Perhaps some might even consider coming back.
by GEOFF SIFRIN | Jul 18, 2019

The appearance before the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture of humbled former South African President Jacob Zuma to explain his role in the corruption of the nine years during which he was in charge, is an example of this. Zuma is accused of allowing or encouraging the “capture” of state institutions by criminal elements, including the notorious Gupta family.

He is being given every possibility to “have his days in court”, which is what everyone is entitled to. Justice Zondo on Tuesday went to great lengths to insist that Zuma and his legal team be given all the necessary protection to ensure their safety and shield them from intimidation.

The remarkable thing is that, in spite of attempts to undermine it, the country’s basic legal foundation has held fast. South Africans can raise a glass to that. It was gratifying to see this once powerful man, the former president, talking to the judge at the commission’s premises in Parktown, Johannesburg, as if he was just another citizen facing the law trying to explain his way out of a difficult situation. It remains to be seen if he manages to outwit those using legal process to tie him down.

There are numerous examples of people taking the legal route for rulings about adherence to the constitution of the republic. However, some who left the country will still be relieved that they have built other lives elsewhere, where political complications are less severe. Others might miss the country they were brought up in, as it performs in ways they never thought possible.

On the negative side, if a society’s health is judged by crime figures, South Africa comes out badly. For example, spectacular headlines were made this week about the situation in the Cape Flats, the impoverished area near Cape Town, where gangsterism has escalated so drastically that 900 people were murdered in the first six months of 2019, according to mortuary statistics.

What does this have to do with the ordinary South African? As always, in the wealthier suburbs, life continues differently, and often elegantly. Many white South Africans know the “white areas” of Cape Town such as Sea Point on the Atlantic coast from living or holidaying there in the past. Sea Point, in particular, has always been a very Jewish area, with beautiful buildings, delightful beaches, and a boardwalk and pools in which children swim.

Sea Point’s residents have always known about the poverty and crime in the Cape Flats. It’s important now, as the country tries to consolidate the things it has in its favour, that everyone becomes more aware of what happens in places like the Cape Flats, and looks at ways in which they might be able to help.

Helping in a situation like this isn’t easy for the average person without resources or know-how. But a spirit of optimism about the country and belief in it in spite of its difficult past and the challenges it faces, might itself be of help.

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