Cape Town - 130228 - A sitting was held in the Provincial Legislature Chambers to resume the debate on Helen Zille's (pictured) State of the Province Address (SOPA). Reporter: Clayton Barnes PICTURE: DAVID RITCHIE
Cape Town - 130228 - A sitting was held in the Provincial Legislature Chambers to resume the debate on Helen Zille's (pictured) State of the Province Address (SOPA). Reporter: Clayton Barnes PICTURE: DAVID RITCHIE

Spy tapes court order a pivotal moment

By Helen Zille Time of article published Aug 20, 2013

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When the history of our democracy is written, August 16, 2013, will be an important date, says DA leader Helen Zille.

Cape Town - When the history of our democracy is written, August 16, 2013, will be an important date. The public focus on that day was, understandably, the first anniversary of the Marikana massacre.

As a result, many people may have missed the news that the North Gauteng High Court ordered the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to hand over the transcripts of the so-called “spy tapes” and related memoranda to the DA within five days.

This was a decisive moment in a case that has dragged on for four years, through three hearings (so far) and has cost the DA millions.

We are committed to seeing this through to the end because the future of our democracy hinges on it. When this case is stripped down to its essentials, it is about the core principle of any constitutional democracy: that no one (not even the most powerful person in the land) is above the law.

The outcome will determine whether the politically powerful in South Africa can manipulate the institutions of democracy in their own interests; or whether these institutions have the strength and independence to hold us all, even the president, to account.

The “spy tapes” are important because the NPA used them as the main reason for its decision, just before the 2009 general election, to drop over 700 counts of corruption, fraud, money laundering and racketeering against President Zuma.

The tapes are secret recordings, made in 2007, of conversations between the head of the now disbanded Scorpions, Leonard McCarthy, and the then national director of public prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka. We have never been told who authorised their phones to be tapped, or why. Nor do we know how the tapes of their conversations landed in the hands of Zuma’s legal team.

Neither has the NPA given reasons to support its assertion that the tapes reveal a “political conspiracy” against Zuma. Or why this should nullify the charges against him.

The NPA simply discontinued the prosecution.

The DA decided to seek a judicial review of this decision. We did so because we believe that it is essential for the NPA to give credible and rational reasons for dropping charges against politically powerful people.

Otherwise the possibility exists that charges against powerful individuals could be withdrawn for political, and not legal, reasons.

We have to ensure that the institutions of our criminal justice system remain independent. If they become tools in the hands of powerful people to protect themselves and their allies and persecute their opponents – it will be end of the rule of law and the death of our democracy.

So, on August 23, 2013, those tapes and other documents must be handed over to the DA’s lawyers. But we are not holding our breath. We expect the president’s lawyers to find yet another way to drag this case out.

After all, they have managed to use every legal mechanism available, over 10 years, to keep their client from ever having to go to court to answer the manifold charges against him. And if the case ever gets to court, they will no doubt find ways of dragging the trial out for another decade.

Very few other people would ever be able to do this because of the prohibitive legal costs involved. But Zuma’s marathon legal diversion has been financed, from the start, by taxpayers’ money. His costs in this case will undoubtedly exceed the R206 million spent on upgrading his private residence in Nkandla.

There is something particularly ironic and tragic about public money being used to subvert the very democracy for which so many struggled for so long.

So now we wait to hear what Zuma’s lawyers will think up next to prevent the truth from emerging. And we wait with particular interest to see whether the NPA will abide by the latest court order, or effectively assist Zuma in his delaying tactics.

Our mandate, from millions of voters, is to defend the constitution and the rule of law. We know that the future of every single South African, whatever their political affiliation, depends on it.

And we will defend these principles for however long it takes and however much it costs.

* Helen Zille is the leader of the DA. This is an edited extract from her weekly newsletter, SA Today.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

Cape Argus

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