South African prosecutors are expected to signal their decision Friday on whether to drop graft charges against the leader of ruling African National Congress (ANC), Jacob Zuma. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) held discussions early this week to shape its next line of action whether or not to pursue the corruption charges against Zuma. But the breakaway opposition Congress of the People party (COPE) condemned the move, saying it would undermine the country's judiciary. Supporters of Zuma maintain that the graft charges are politically motivated to prevent him from becoming South Africa's next president.
Professor of international relations Rok Ajulu tells reporter Peter Clottey there are strong indications that charges against Zuma would be dropped.
"This has been going round for quite some time now and it is a decision which is certainly being awaited with baited breath from both sides whether you are with the pro-Zuma faction or the anti-Zuma faction. But the speculation on this for the whole of last week or so and including the previous week was that it is likely that the NPA is going to drop charges against Zuma. That obviously has started a lot of debate and controversy around the mere fact that after seven years of trying to charge Zuma, they are about to drop the charges. So the controversy continues, but the speculation is that it is quite likely that the charges against Zuma are going to be dropped," Ajulu noted.
He said there is speculation among sections of the public that the ruling party had planted news of the NPA's imminent decision in order to drop charges against Jacob Zuma.
"That is one of the interpretations of the announcement, that the charges were being dropped. Some people saw it as the ANC using it to test the ground. But I don't quite think so because the representation to the NPA was made public. And within that framework, that argument throughout was that they were asking the NPA to drop the charges because of the political interference, which Zuma has always claimed. Now, it comes out according media reports that the representations and the latest evidence that was presented to the NPA did indicate and did seem to vindicate Zuma's claim all along that there was political interference," he said.
Ajulu said there are indications that the charges might be dropped since the NPA seems to suggest that continuing the graft charges would further tarnish the reputation of the agency.
"The argument is that the NPA has been so much compromised by the interference from the executive that they feel that if they go ahead with the charges, it will damage the reputation of the NPA even further," Ajulu noted.
He sharply differed from the opposition, which claims that dropping the charges against Zuma would undermine the country's rule of law.
"That argument has been put forward by a number of players, including COPE. But I think that they are not being honest in this matter because this is not the first time that charges are being dropped against a number of political players in South Africa… legally there are circumstances under which charges are going to be dropped irrespective of who the players are. It is an election period, and you must take that with a pinch of salt," he said.
Ajulu dismissed as unfortunate remarks that the charges would be dropped to give the ruling party and undue advantage ahead of the general election.
"The fact that the ANC was going to win this election was never in dispute. The ANC support base is still too big so, whether the charges were dropped or not was not going to in anyway take away part of the ANC victory. The argument that has been posited that COPE has come into the scene and as a result of that, the ANC support base would be dented is neither here nor there, since there is nothing of that nature on the ground. Because the evidence so far indicates that COPE would not be able to dent the support base of the ANC. Because if you look closely to the by-election recently held over the last five weeks or so, there are no indications that COPE was gaining some support as to threaten the support base of the ANC," Ajulu pointed out.
Earlier last month media reports from South Africa suggested that the prosecuting authority was considering dropping graft charges against the ANC leader.
The NPA was locked in meetings earlier this week to discuss the possibility of dropping Zuma's prosecution on graft charges. It is expected to disclose today when it will announce its decision.
The NPA charges ANC leader Jacob Zuma with graft, fraud, money laundering and racketeering on December 28 2007 eight days after winning the ruling party's presidency at the Polokwane Conference, beating challenger and former President Thabo Mbeki.
The NPA's move had been expected after it announced fresh charges against Zuma in relation to a state arms deal were imminent in 2007. The charges cast into doubt Zuma's chances of becoming South Africa's president in this month's general elections. A first corruption case against him was thrown out of court last year over delays. After gaining access to new evidence, the NPA alleges Zuma received 4 million rand in corrupt payments between 1995 and 2005.
The ANC is widely expected to maintain its two-thirds majority in South Africa's parliament in this month's election despite a stiff challenge predicted from opposition parties, including the newly formed COPE splinter group.