Jacob Zuma after 15-month jail compares South African judges to the apartheid state

Jacob Zuma after 15-month jail compares South African judges to the apartheid state

 

NKANDLA, South Africa, July 4 (Reuters) – South Africa’s ex-president Jacob Zuma lashed out on Sunday at the judges who this week gave him a 15-month jail term for absconding from a corruption inquiry, comparing them to the white minority apartheid rulers he once fought.

Zuma spoke at his home in Nklandla, in a rural part of Kwazulu Natal province, where hundreds of his supporters, some of them armed, were gathered to prevent his arrest.

“The fact that I was lambasted with a punitive jail sentence without trial should engender shock in all those who believe in freedom and the rule of law,” Zuma told journalists.

“South Africa is fast sliding back to apartheid rule.”

The constitutional court sentenced Zuma on Tuesday for contempt of court for failing to appear at a hearing in February of the inquiry led by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.

On Saturday it agreed to hear his challenge to the jail term, suspending it until after a hearing on July 12. nL2N2OF09D

The sentence was seen as a sign of just how far Zuma, once revered as a veteran of the struggle against white minority rule, has fallen since embarking on a presidency beset by multiple sleaze and graft scandals between 2009 and 2018.
There have been two distinct moments, out of many other concerning moments, in the past 10 years when I was convinced that our nascent constitutional democracy stood no chance. The first moment was in 2015, when the South African government defied the orders of its own court by facilitating the departure of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir through a government air force base. This was despite a high court’s order that al-Bashir remain in the country, because South Africa was legally obligated to turn him over to the International Criminal Court (ICC) as per our voluntarily assumed international law obligations. Jacob Zuma was president at the time of this proverbial middle finger to the law by the government.
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As a constitutional lawyer I know that the government, especially one led by Zuma, is capable of wilfully misapplying, misinterpreting and misusing the law, but never once did I ever think the government would brazenly ignore a court order in such a spectacular manner. Such egregious acts mark the beginning of the end for any constitutional democracy. If we do not comply with court orders there is, quite bluntly, no country to speak of.

We hobbled on from this incident, distracted by narratives of the ICC’s biased relationship with Africa, and with disingenuous efforts to pull out from the ICC, which still has not happened six years later.

The second moment that marked a constitutional violation so unkind that it brought me to tears was the social grants disaster in 2017 that endangered the lives of almost 17 million vulnerable people. The Constitutional Court had to intervene once again in the government’s self-created maelstrom and was placed in the impossible position of extending a contract it had previously declared illegal between the government and a service provider in order to protect the 17 million people to whom social grants were a matter of life and death. Yet, judging by how unkindly, carelessly and indifferently Zuma’s government treated the entire matter, you would not have known how critical the matter was. And that incident perfectly summarised the Zuma years – they were especially heartless, careless and indifferent.

I knew from his testimony at his rape trial that Zuma was unworthy of the presidency. I knew he would never be the type of leader to put country above self, and that was confirmed over and over again. My aversion for Zuma simmers on because I know that the close to 10 years we spent under his misdirection are 10 years that have cost our country dearly. And what is even more infuriating is that even out of office his destructive behaviour continues at a moment when our country is on its knees.

Earlier this year he defied a Constitutional Court order by failing to appear at the Zondo Commission as ordered by the court. Not only did he defy its order, he also attacked the one institution that the public still has confidence in – the Constitutional Court. His unsubstantiated allegations against the court are well documented. They are especially dangerous because of who he is. If Zuma sets the precedent that one can ignore our courts wilfully, it will have catastrophic implications for all of us. A discredited judiciary means that when we as citizens need the help of the court system it will be too impotent to provide recourse. The Constitutional Court’s judgment mandating Zuma’s imprisonment for 15 months could have been easily avoided by Zuma himself. Things did not need to get to this point, but he left the court with no choice. There were a number of options, which are set out in the court’s well-reasoned judgment, that were available to Zuma that could have ensured a different ending. He failed to appear before the court to argue his case and he failed to submit an affidavit when the court sought his input on what he thought the appropriate sanction should be.

Instead of assisting the court, Zuma doubled down on his unfounded and dangerous allegations against the court, which threaten our constitutional order. It’s not lost on me that six of the nine judges currently sitting on the court were appointed by Zuma himself, including Acting Chief Justice Sisi Khampepe, who handed down the latest judgment against Zuma. How convenient now that Zuma deems them incapable of doing their job.

It is perfectly fine not to like a court judgment but we have to comply and I hope that Zuma and his supporters will accept the court’s findings. I do not think it’s ever too late for redemption. If Zuma chooses to peacefully comply with the court’s order his humanity would be enhanced. I beg you, former president Zuma, to choose country over yourself and do the right thing. DM168