Zuma jail sentence: Judiciary has defended democracy, says Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation
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Johannesburg - Tuesday’s Constitutional Court judgment which sentenced former president Jacob Zuma to 15 months imprisonment for contempt of court was an affirmation that the rule of law was powerful in South Africa, said the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation.
Zuma had failed to comply with a Concourt order which had directed the former president to appear before the commission, give evidence and declared that he does not have a right to remain silent.
Zuma failed to appear before the state capture inquiry, forcing the commission to approach the Constitutional Court on an urgent basis in March.
Acting deputy chief justice Sisi Khampepe’s judgment was scathing on Zuma for failing to uphold the Constitution.
“This Court has espoused the existence of a heightened obligation on the President, by virtue of her or his position, to conduct her or himself in a manner that accords with the Constitution because there are few office-bearers of greater constitutional importance than that of the President.
“An obligation is expressly imposed on the President to uphold, defend and respect the Constitution as the law that is above all other laws in the Republic. . . . This requires the President to do all he can to ensure that our constitutional democracy thrives. He must provide support to all institutions or measures designed to strengthen our constitutional democracy.”
“Mr Zuma’s conduct that led to and has persisted throughout these proceedings is all the more outrageous when regard is had to the position that he once occupied. Although Mr Zuma is no longer President, his conduct flies in the face of the obligation that he bore as President. It is disturbing that he, who twice swore allegiance to the Republic, its laws and the Constitution, has sought to ignore, undermine and, in many ways, destroy the rule of law altogether.
“Finally, it is not insignificant that Mr Zuma’s contemptuous conduct relates to his duty to account for the time that he was in Office and is accordingly inextricably linked to his constitutional obligations as a public office-bearer. For these reasons, Mr Zuma’s flagrant and disdainful breach of this Court’s order is intertwined with the oath that he took to uphold the Constitution,” said Khampepe in the judgment.
In a statement, the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation: “Today, the rule of law has stood powerful. Our highest court has made it plain that our country’s Constitution is supreme and that no South African, not even a president, is ever above the law.
“Today, the Constitutional Court, in ruling that former president Jacob Zuma be jailed for 15 months for contempt of court, defended our Constitution and our democracy”.
The foundation said the ruling was a watershed moment for the country.
“We have arrived at a pivotal moment in our history, one of which we can all be proud. In 1994, after hundreds of years of cruel injustice through colonialism and apartheid, South Africans voted for a constitutional democracy in which all are equal before the law.
“The Constitution of South Africa is admired worldwide for its breadth and progressiveness, but to have real, lasting impetus, a constitution must have an integral effect on every action a government and its people take. Too often, we fall short of this noble goal.
“Today, we did not fall short of this righteous objective. Today, our judiciary defended our democracy, our Constitution, and thus the citizens of South Africa. Today, we are stronger,” the foundation said.