Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma could be in danger of facing prosecution on corruption charges again if it is proved that the “spy tapes” were not the basis for dropping charges against him.
But reinstituting the charges is not going to be a simple process because the stakes would be very high for the president and the ANC.
This is the view of constitutional law and political experts after the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria finally handed over the recordings to the DA.
“The ANC will not want this to cloud its policy conference (next year). Should they (charges) be reinstated, it quickens the succession battle on terms that are not going to be of Zuma’s liking.
“The president will fight strenuously to make sure the charges don’t define his legacy,” said political expert Dr Somadoda Fikeni.
Zuma welcomed the release of the tapes, saying he was “happy with the process so far”.
The release of the tapes meant the DA had taken a major step on Thursday in its five-year battle to launch a court application for a review of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) decision in 2009 to drop more than 700 charges against Zuma.
The charges against Zuma included corruption, fraud, money laundering and racketeering.
“In this envelope we have what we believe are the transcripts of the tapes and other incidental documents as well as the memory stick which we believe reflects the contents of the tapes,” DA leader Helen Zille said outside the court.
The tapes allegedly include the internal memorandums, record of meetings and minutes dealing with the contents of the phone recordings of the conversation between the former head of the now defunct Scorpions, Leonard McCarthy, and the NPA’s former head, Bulelani Ngcuka.
Then acting NPA boss Mokotedi Mpshe used the recordings as the reason to drop more than 700 charges of corruption, fraud and money racketeering against Zuma, citing political conspiracy.
Fikeni and constitutional law expert Professor Shadrack Gutto said the process to verify whether the tapes were authentic would be laborious and protracted.
Gutto said Zuma could find himself in danger if the tapes proved not to be a valid reason to drop the charges against him.
“Should they (spy tapes) not be authentic or relevant, that would still be damaging for the president. There will be the danger of having the charges reinstated (against him),” Gutto said.
Zille was quick to describe the handing over of the spy tapes as a milestone in South Africa’s constitutional democracy.
“This is a very important step in our commitment to defend the constitution and the independence of every part of our criminal justice system,” Zille said shortly after receiving the tapes. “We will go through them very, very carefully and our lawyers will advise us if we have a strong case for a review application of the NPA’s original decision to drop charges,” she said, adding that she was confident the tapes back the DA’s case.
“We know the charges were not withdrawn for legal reasons but for political reasons to enable Jacob Zuma to become the president in 2009.”
Zille reiterated the DA’s frustration with Zuma’s persistent attempts to stop the release of the tapes.
“Surely if the tapes prove their case, they would have given (them to) us. Why are they fighting?
“At the Supreme Court of Appeal, Jacob Zuma’s own lawyer (Kemp J Kemp) told us that he has no case,” she said, referring to that court’s ruling last Thursday, ordering the NPA to comply with a previous order and hand over the spy tapes within five days.
Kemp’s instructing attorney Michael Hulley refused to comment on Thursday, referring questions to the office of the Presidency.
Zille said it would have been a travesty of justice if the spy tapes were not released.
“That would be the death of our criminal justice system,” said Zille, while also sending a stern message to Zuma.
“President Zuma was very deep in the struggle for democracy and this is what he struggled for – accountability. No matter how much it takes and how long it takes, we will fight for to ensure our state institutions remain independent.”