Analysis: Dropping Zuma charges a boost for ANC

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South African prosecutors on Monday dropped corruption charges against Jacob Zuma, a big relief for the ANC leader who is expected to become the country’s president in less than a month.
The National Prosecuting Authority said its decision was based on what it called abuses of the legal process. Zuma’s case was closed, it said.
Reuters reports the decision to drop the charges gives the African National Congress a big boost ahead of parliamentary and local elections on April 22 — expected to be the most closely contested poll since apartheid ended in 1994.
The ANC, which has dominated South African politics since then, is expected to win the election, but faces its toughest competition yet from a breakaway party that hopes to lure voters uneasy with corruption scandals in the ANC.
The scrapping of charges against party leader Zuma could help improve its credentials on clean government and would inject confidence into the campaign with just over two weeks before voters go to the polls.
The decision will be a huge relief for Zuma but he now must deliver on promises of spending more on millions of poor South Africans while reassuring investors he will not steer the economy to the left.
Axing charges would lift a hurdle that was unlikely to have stopped Zuma becoming president, but may have complicated his presidency and been a major distraction in office.
Having a president facing possible jail would have tarnished South Africa’s image abroad and hurt perceptions of Zuma himself, internationally and at home.
He can now focus on spurring growth and dealing with the ripple effects of the global financial crisis in Africa’s biggest economy and with tackling poverty, crime and HIV/AIDS, without graft charges hanging over him.
However, analysts note the charges were only dropped on a technicality and Zuma’s innocence has not been established. That means questions about his integrity could still hang over his presidency.
Many foreign investors have been expecting a deal to clear the charges before the election. In the short-term, they will welcome such a step because it removes uncertainty and eases political risk.
When charges against Zuma were reinstated in January, the rand weakened and local stocks fell as investors fretted about the prospect of a drawn-out legal case. The rand was largely steady immediately after the decision at 9.0100 to the dollar.
Long-term, however, dropping the charges could damage South Africa’s image abroad and with investors, especially since the merits of the case have not been discounted.
The NPA’s verdict that the country’s former chief of the elite anti-crime unit abused and manipulated legal processes will stoke concerns about the integrity of the judiciary.
South Africa often boasts about its constitution, one of the world’s most progressive, but faces rising disquiet about the independence of its legal system.
Zuma’s victory may add to that sentiment, eroding confidence in the rule of law and stir fears South Africa is sliding away from the democratic ideals it sought to promote after the end of apartheid.
Zuma’s opponents, for example, have accused the ANC of conducting back room deals to clear his name.
Some foreign investors even worry South Africa risks eventually going the way of neighbouring Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe has been accused of clinging to power, undermining the rule of law and wrecking the economy.
Opposition party COPE –an ANC breakaway led by former defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota – said recently dropping the charges would add weight to perceptions that South Africa is becoming a “banana republic”.