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Jacob Zuma’s own comments about the judiciary have come back to haunt him

Former president Jacob Zuma's criticism of the judiciary was dealt with at length in the ConCourt judgment handed down on Tuesday. File picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)

Former president Jacob Zuma's criticism of the judiciary was dealt with at length in the ConCourt judgment handed down on Tuesday. File picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Jun 29, 2021


Johannesburg - Former president Jacob Zuma’s defiance of the commission of inquiry probing high-level corruption during his time in office, and his outright attacks on the judiciary, will cost him just over a year of his freedom.

The Constitutional Court on Tuesday sentenced Zuma to 15 months in prison for contempt of court after he repeatedly ignored an earlier court order to appear before the commission.

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Delivering the judgment, acting Deputy Chief Justice Sisi Khampepe said Zuma had undermined the rule of law by refusing to comply with summons to testify before the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture.

“It is disturbing that he who twice sought allegiance to the Republic, its laws and its Constitution has sought to ignore, undermine and in many ways destroy the rule of law altogether,” Justice Khampepe said.

Zuma has defied a Constitutional Court order issued in January that called on him to heed directives from the Zondo Commission to appear before the probe team, and at one time dared the court to send him to jail, arguing that he would never testify before the commission.

The former president also took aim at the very court which had been asked to rule on the matter, saying there were signs that South Africa was descending into a “judicial dictatorship”.

In a statement at the end of March, hours after the Concourt reserved judgment in the application by the Zondo Commission, Zuma said: “I strongly agree with the public sentiment that is starting to see the emergence of a judicial dictatorship in South Africa.

“We have in South Africa today the gradual entrenchment of the counter-majoritarian problem. Unfortunately, when people rise up against this judicial corruption, our young democracy will unravel and many democratic gains will be lost in the ashes that will be left of what used to be our democratic state.”

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According to Justice Khampepe, the former president had exhibited a casual and “scandalous” attitude towards the judiciary, behaviour for which he should be punished.

In a scathing 127-page judgment, Justice Khampepe expressed concern that Zuma’s attacks on the judiciary could inspire others to follow suit unless he is stopped in his tracks.

“Not only is Mr Zuma’s behaviour so outlandish as to warrant a disposal of ordinary procedure, but it is becoming increasingly evident that the damage being caused by his ongoing assaults on the integrity of the judicial process cannot be cured by an order down the line. It must be stopped now,” Justice Khampepe said.

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“Indeed, if we do not intervene immediately to send a clear message to the public that this conduct stands to be rebuked in the strongest of terms, there is a real and imminent risk that a mockery will be made of this court and the judicial process in the eyes of the public.

“The vigour with which Mr Zuma is peddling his disdain of this court and the judicial process carries the further risk that he will inspire or incite others to similarly defy this court, the judicial process and the rule of law.”

Justice Khampepe said Zuma has five days to present himself to the police station near his Nkandla rural home or in Johannesburg.

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