JOHANNESBURG : Former South African President Jacob Zuma should have spent his first night behind bars by now. But the former head of State has again managed to evade the long arm of the law.
On Friday he launched an urgent court bid pleading for a rescission of the Constitutional Court’s judgment that he was guilty of contempt of court and should serve 15 months in prison.
The sentence was to have begun yesterday. But the Constitutional Court agreed at the weekend to listen to Zuma’s application on 12 July – preventing an eruption of threatened violence by Zuma supporters should the South African police have turned up to arrest him.
But amid ugly threats of violence by supporters if he was arrested, Zuma embarked on court action on Friday to fight the contempt ruling. Drawing on his age and poor health, Zuma insisted that he should not be serving a year and three months behind bars for defying its orders that he appear before the State Capture Inquiry.
Zuma was found guilty of contempt of court for failure to obey a previous order made by the Constitutional Court in Secretary of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into allegations of state capture, corruption and fraud in the public sector.
In a judgment read out by Acting Chief Justice Sisi Khampepe on 29 June, Zuma was found guilty of contempt of court for failure to comply with the order and had to turn himself in at a police station nearest to his home in Nkandla in KwaZulu Natal or to the Johannesburg Central Police Station in Gauteng to begin his sentence. He was given five days to do this.
Yesterday, evening in an address broadcast on national television from his home in Nkandla, KwaZulu Natal, Zuma called for calm among supporters but played the victim saying that the sentence was akin to a “death sentence” and that the court’s treated him differently to what was laid out in the country’s constitution.
But he said he was not afraid of being a prisoner of conscience again, having served a decade on Robben Island under the apartheid government and would do so in democratic South Africa.
Zuma wants the Constitutional Court to listen to hear evidence in mitigation of his sentence “in relation to my developing health situation” where he hopes to elaborate further on his condition.
“At that point, I will be in a better position to adduce the expert evidence of my medical
“That is the least humane gesture this Honourable Court may wish to undertake before possibly sentencing me to death at my age, state of health and in the middle of a deadly pandemic.”
Several legal experts told South Africa media that Zuma has little chance of success given that the Constitutional Court has already addressed his missed opportunities at defending himself against the accusations.
Rival politicians have also had their say on the escalating Zuma controversy, which according to ruling ANC-party had divided people in KwaZulu-Natal – and indeed the country.
The Democratic Alliance leader John Steenhuisen wants President Cyril Ramaphosa to take action against former president Jacob Zuma and his supporters following the gatherings in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal which broke lockdown regulations.
He said while business have had to endure devastating losses to adhere to lockdown restrictions, members of the ANC and Zuma faction act without any consequence.
“The president’s silence on this matter only reinforces what many South Africans have come to believe: that nobody is above the law, except those connected to the ANC’s elite,” Steenhuisen said.
Former Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi told The Witness in a statement, that he, along with His Majesty King Misuzulu ka Zwelithini, the Queen Mother, Her Majesty Queen Mayvis maZungu, and the Zulu Royal Family, distanced themselves from the actions of Zulu regiment commander Zihogo Maguzumbela Nhleko, who led a group of Zuma sympathisers to Nkandla at the weekend.
Using self-pity, illness and a woe-is me attitude, already spelled out in his address yesterday, Zuma will explain further on 12 July why he should not be swopping civilian attire for an orange outfit normally reserved for inmates.
Zuma is also on trial, along with the French arms manufacturer Thales, in the Pietermaritzburg High Court relating to the R30 billion purchase in 1999 of fighter jets, patrol boats, and military equipment between 1995 to 2005. He is facing 16 charges of fraud, graft and racketeering, and failure to declare income tax during this period. Zuma has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Next Monday Zuma will have another crack at beating the contempt rap currently facing him.
The Constitutional Court would be significant for the rule of law in South Africa, given that optimism was already high following its 29 June judgment against the former head of State who’s Houdini-like nature has always kept him above the law.