Jacob Zuma, Picture: SUPPLIED
Jacob Zuma, Picture: SUPPLIED

For over a decade, the taxpayer has had to bear the burden of former president Jacob Zuma’s attempt to stay out of jail and cover up his alleged misdeeds.

During the height of his power, the idea that the day would come when he would have to repay the state for this was inconceivable. The whole idea of him facing his day in court was also hard to imagine.

But events in recent weeks are increasingly showing that the wheel has turned for Zuma and the accountability he tried to evade for so long is beckoning. More than anything, it’s a victory for SA’s democracy and the hope that the country can regain the ideals and hopes that accompanied the birth of the new nation in the mid-1990s.

With good reason, much of the discourse about where we are now is focused on the economic promise deferred. The success in building vital institutions of democracy in a short period was often overlooked and underappreciated. That’s until it started to look like we were going to lose them.

But events in recent weeks are increasingly showing that the wheel has turned for Zuma and the accountability he tried to evade for so long is beckoning.

Deputy judge president Aubrey Ledwaba’s ruling on Thursday, ordering that Zuma should pay his own legal costs in his corruption case, should be seen in this context. It took a lengthy and fractious process to ensure that Zuma paid back the more than  R240m spent on non-security upgrades to his private residence at Nkandla, culminating in the Constitutional Court finally settling the matter shortly before the local government elections in 2016.

On the eve of yet another election, Zuma has been ordered to pay back the money he received from taxpayers for his legal costs.  

On Thursday, the High Court in Pretoria ruled that he will have to foot his own legal bills from now on and also that he would have to pay back some R16m already spent by the state on his legal fees as he sought to avoid his day in court over corruption charges.

Despite the continuation of Zuma’s damaging legacy on the state and institutions, the latter part of 2018 will be remembered for how he was dealt blow after blow by institutions that were almost decimated during his decade-long presidency. 

The appointment of a new National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) head, Shamila Batohi, who will take up the post in February, is hugely problematic for Zuma and his supporters. Batohi is not embroiled in the factional battles in the NPA and by all accounts should be fiercely independent in her approach to political cases.

There is in fact no need for political interference to ensure that Zuma and some of his staunchest supporters face the consequences of their actions. All that is needed is for the NPA to do its job, which it is well on its way to doing, with a new leadership.

Axed South African Revenue Service (Sars) commissioner Tom Moyane’s court loss this week was also a victory for accountability. Moyane’s departure paves the way for a new leader to take over and turn around the tax agency to commence.

Zuma went as far as submitting an affidavit in support for Moyane in his court battle against President Cyril Ramaphosa, which unsurprisingly amounted to nothing. But what his affidavit did do is illustrate the importance of retaining control of Sars to his faction.

Zuma’s last court appearance, in which he applied for a permanent stay of prosecution, was an indication that his support inside the ANC is waning. He used the platform to campaign for the ANC and could not share a stage with Black First Land First leader Andile Mngxitama, who had addressed the crowds outside his court appearances in the past. Zuma and his cronies were reined in by the party.

Evidence before the commission of inquiry into state capture in its last few weeks has placed Zuma at the heart of the Guptas’ capture project, with former mineral resources minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi providing the nation and the commission with Zuma’s motive for allowing their audacious capture.

Zuma had repeatedly told the ANC national executive committee that they were his “friends” and had “given his sons jobs when he was a persona non grata”.

The high court judgment on Zuma’s legal costs should be welcomed because it is yet another of many signs that the wheel is turning and gives hope that the country is entering a new era of accountability.