No free pass for the president

01 December 2017 - 07:21 By The Times Editorial
President Jacob Zuma in the National Assembly. File photo.
President Jacob Zuma in the National Assembly. File photo.

A number of commentators have been tempted, in the glow following Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe's dethroning and the circumstances of it, to wonder if a similar deal might not be an option to rid ourselves of Jacob Zuma as president.

Should we be wooed by such a solution, this would conceivably - as in Mugabe's case - involve Zuma being given amnesty or immunity from prosecution and allowed to retain the spoils of his rotten office.

Presumably, this would also extend to his family who, evidence overwhelmingly suggests, have acted as his agents in the capture and plunder of the South African state.

Some have even speculated that a blank-cheque deal has already been put to Zuma.

But, as attractive and elegant as this might appear to be, we should never support a deal like this. It would be unconstitutional and would scoff at the principle that all are equal before the law.

In 1994 when Ciskei's former dictator Oupa Gqozo was tried for murder and incitement to murder for his role in the Bisho massacre he offered a defence under English common law that "the king can do no wrong", an argument that was rejected by the court, which found that absolute sovereign immunity was not part of South African law. A Mugabe-type deal for Zuma would imply we accept sovereign immunity, as Zimbabwe's new leaders have pragmatically done.

Amnesties are not as elegant as we would like to assume. The once-lauded but now increasingly criticised truth and reconciliation process we followed after 1994 should serve as a warning about the inadequacy of an amnesty deal for Zuma.

Knowing the truth is not enough if it leaves behind a gaping wound of injustice.

No, our "king" has done wrong and the principles which underpin our society demand that he pay the price for it.