By the Blouin News Politics staff

Zuma’s fat legal bills fuel corruption fire

by in Africa.

South African President Jacob Zuma in Colombo November 17, 2013.  REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

South African President Jacob Zuma in Colombo November 17, 2013. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

President Jacob Zuma’s alleged personal corruption, as well as the more institutional avarice of his long-dominant African National Congress Party, is the chief motivating factor behind twin insurgencies bubbling on the fringe of South African politics. So it will not come as welcome news to ANC leadership that Zuma’s legal bills are going through the roof:

President Jacob Zuma’s attorneys were paid more than R8.8 million to represent him in court during the past four years, according to Justice Minister Jeff Radebe.

In a written reply to a parliamentary question, tabled on Wednesday, he said law firm Hulley and Associates received R7 945 971 in 2009/10, R570 068 in 2010/11, and R327,890 in 2012/13.

The cases involved included those relating to the multi-billion-rand arms deal as well as the so-called spy tapes matter.

Though the inquiry into the president’s massive legal fund was launched by a member of the old-guard Democratic Alliance that has been confined to permanent minority status, the chief beneficiaries of this kind of scrutiny — and the bad optics for Zuma generally — will be Mamphela Ramphele, the businesswoman and former anti-apartheid activist hoping to make a splash in the vote next year with her new party, and the left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters. True, needing biggish amounts of taxpayer monies to pay for his legal defense isn’t enough in itself to dislodge Zuma (and his allies) from power. What this kind of headline does provide, however, is a convenient way to reinforce the narrative of ANC graft. When individual incidents accumulate into a more coherent framework that’s easy for voters, especially younger ones less attached to the legacy of Nelson Mandela, to understand, Zuma will be in trouble — trouble that will worsen along with the nation’s limping economy. It’s left to the gifts of Ramphele and the EFF’s Julius Malema to guide the public to a new path. In that sense, it will be interesting to watch just how radicalized ANC opponents become: is Ramphele’s centrist course of technocratic improvement sufficient, or will Malema’s more revolutionary zeal strike a chord amid persistent income inequality? The more outrageous the revealed corruption becomes, the easier it is to imagine the latter scenario.