Zuma’s rep in tatters after court victory

It has been a week since the man who wants to be the next President of Africa's wealthiest country was acquitted of rape. The

verdict was not a surprise to those who had been following the trial closely. As soon as the judge allowed the complainant’s sexual history to be included as part of the testimony in the trial, anyone familiar with rape trials could have predicted what the verdict would be. To add to this development, the prosecution pursued a non-aggressive strategy that meant, for instance, that they did not push on details of Zuma’s own chequered sexual past. As it happens, it was perhaps not necessary to lead this evidence in the end because in his pronouncements about women, and how to take care of their sexual needs, Zuma ultimately showed his true colours as a dinosaur who continues to cling to outdated notions of culture. It became clear that Zuma would be acquitted when the entire court, including the judge, sang happy birthday to him. Despite my misgivings about the cavalier manner in which the judge handled this important trial, and despite my mounting irritation with the condescending tone of the judgement, I have come to accept that the verdict is the correct one. The burden of proof in criminal trials is such that the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime was committed by the person accused of the crime. The prosecutor simply did not meet this standard. There was a lot of doubt, and there remains a lot of doubt as to what really happened that night, and it is because of this reasonable doubt that Zuma was acquitted.
Zuma may not be guilty of rape, but he is very guilty of poor judgement. The complainant may have consented to sex with Zuma, but her apparent confusion about her sexuality as well as her past sexual experiences bring into question the nature of that consent. When I was a law student in Zimbabwe, the law defined rape to include consensual sex with a woman who was not capable of giving consent, such as someone suffering a mental disability. Almost every country has laws of statutory rape under which persons below a defined age limit are deemed incapable of consent. Judges in England have gone one step further through precedent which makes it possible for men to be convicted for having sex with women who were drunk and therefore not capable of giving proper consent. However, Zuma knew this woman’s sexual history, he knew that she had been raped as a young child, and he knew that one of his ANC colleagues had been disciplined for having sex with the complainant when she was in her early teens. He knew that she had contracted HIV through unprotected sex with an infected partner, and he knew that her experiences had damaged her in a way that should have made him offer his protection. Instead of providing protection and support, Zuma thought he would “take care of her needs” by having sex with her. At the very least, the age difference, and the respect with which this girl regarded him must have given him pause for thought. In having sex with the complainant Zuma exercised poor judgement and showed a lack of sensitivity. And, like the judge, I won’t even comment on his belief that a shower would protect him from being infected by the HIV virus. Acording to the judgment in the Schabir Shaik trial, the relationship between Zuma and Shaik was tainted with corruption. This is the finding of one judge in one trial. We wait to see what another judge in the upcoming corruption trial will reveal. I take comfort in a recent poll that shows that the majority of South Africans do not believe that Zuma is fit to lead them. If Zuma is acquitted on the corruption charges and somehow becomes President ahead of the many qualified South Africans that could lead that great nation, then I will only shake my head and say that people deserve the leaders that they choose. – Petina Gappah is a lawyer who writes from Geneva. The views expressed in this article are personal reflections on the Zuma trial and do not represent an analysis of South African criminal law, or criminal law more generally.

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