Former President Jacob Zuma has been sent to prison for 15 months for disobeying an order by South Africa’s apex court that he appear before the Zondo State Capture inquiry into allegations of corruption which occurred under his watch. Tania Broughton reports.
On Tuesday, the majority of the Constitutional Court said even this sentence would not adequately undo the damage and dignity to the country’s judicial system and he “owes this sentence to the nation he once promised to lead and the Constitution he once vowed to uphold”.
He has been ordered to present himself at a police station within five days. If he fails to do so, it will be up to Police Minister Bheki Cele to act swiftly against him to ensure that he begins serving his sentence.
He has also been ordered to pay the Commission's legal costs on a punitive scale.
The commission launched the unusual application in the Constitutional Court, seeking an order that he respect its authority, after Zuma walked out, without permission, in November last year. This followed his unsuccessful application for Judge Zondo’s recusal in which he claimed Zondo was “biased” against him.
He is taking that decision on review.
The Constitutional Court ruled that he must appear before the commission but he defied the order. He also failed to participate further in the Concourt hearing deliberating his contempt and punishment, instead resorting to further “scandalous and unfounded” allegations against the Judiciary and undermining the rule of law.
Writing for the majority of the court, Judge Sisi Kamphepe said Zuma was undoubtedly guilty of contempt of court.
“Never has the authority of the Constitutional Court been subject to the kinds of attacks that he has launched on it.
“Never before has the judicial process been so threatened.
“And the vivour with which he is peddling his disdain, carries the risk that he will inspire others to similarly disobey court orders.”
The Judge said this matter did not warrant an suspended committal (suspended sentence) in order to coerce compliance because it would be naive to think that Zuma would comply.
“He has repeatedly said he would rather be imprisoned.
“There is no reason to give him one final opportunity.”
Judge Khampepe said the court had gone to great lengths to protect Zuma’s rights.
“He was invited to file an affidavit on what he considered an appropriate sanction if he were found to be in contempt of court.
“In response, instead of filing an affidavit, he addressed a 21-page letter to the Chief Justice. “Unfortunately, but not entirely unexpectedly, he squandered an opportunity to respect South Africa’s legal processes.
“Instead of furnishing mitigating factors, he made inflammatory statements intended to undermine this court’s authority, and make him out to be a victim.”
The Judge said the majority had found that Zuma was no ordinary litigant, that he has political influence and power to incite others.
His conduct flew in the face of the obligations he bore as the former president and the allegiances he swore to the Republic.
Instead he had, in many ways, attempted to destroy the rule of law altogether.
On the issue of costs, Judge Khampepe said Zuma had abandoned all ethical standards and that no person was above the law.
“If litigants are allowed to decide which orders they can obey or ignore, then our Constitution is not worth the paper on which it is written.”
A minority of two judges, while finding him to be in contempt, said the law was not yet clear on how to handle sentencing in contempt proceedings which were a hybrid of civil and criminal matters.
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