Proceedings in the matter between President Cyril Ramaphosa and former president Jacob Zuma became heated after Zuma’s lawyer, advocate Dali Mpofu, accused the National Prosecuting Authority of acting in a “disgraceful” manner by issuing a statement of support and defending state advocate Billy Downer.
Mpofu unleashed an attack on the NPA and KZN Director of Public Prosecutions Elaine Zungu who stated that she never considered whether to pursue a criminal case against Ramaphosa when she granted the disputed nolle prosequi certificates.
The Zuma versus Ramaphosa matter sat before a full bench of judges Selby Baqwa, Lebogang Modiba and Mohammed Ismail at the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg on Wednesday and is expected to continue on Thursday.
Zuma has accused Ramaphosa of not acting on a complaint he lodged against Downer and journalist Karyn Maughan last year and therefore sought private prosecution against the president on charges of being an accessory after the fact, relating to crimes in that case.
KZN DPP Zungu issued two nolle prosequi certificates last year. A nolle prosequi certificate is issued by the NPA if it declines to prosecute a case. A private individual can then go on to prosecute the case independently and at their own cost.
At the time of the certificates being issued, Zuma had told the NPA he planned to prosecute Downer but Ramaphosa’s name was not expressly mentioned in his initial complaint. Although the NPA said it would not debate the merits of the case, it said that Zungu “did not apply her mind” to whether Ramaphosa could be prosecuted by the NPA and that Ramaphosa “was at no point a suspect”.
Mpofu labelled Zungu a liar. Judge Modiba told Mpofu to “tone down” his language. Those sitting in the public gallery who were clapping in support of Mpofu’s arguments were also warned by the judges that they would be removed from the court if they did not maintain court decorum.
The full bench is sitting for two days to deal with the second part of the case where Ramaphosa is seeking a final and permanent interdict against Zuma’s private prosecution.
Mpofu told the court there was nothing unreasonable about Zuma issuing a criminal summons against Ramaphosa on the eve of the ANC’s elective conference in December as Zuma was only trying to get matters finalised before the year end. Mpofu has maintained that Ramaphosa was always a suspect in the case.
He also argued that Ramaphosa brought this matter to the incorrect court and that he acted “prematurely” as he had not yet pleaded to his criminal charges. Mpofu argued that no matter his position, even if the president faced criminal charges, he should first be brought to the criminal court to plead before approaching a civil court to determine the right to prosecute.
Earlier in the day, state attorney representing Ramaphosa, advocate Ngwako Maenjte SC, said this case fell squarely in the boundaries of abuse of court process, ulterior motives and no substantial interests.
“It’s frivolous and vexatious.This is the kind of criminal charge that is proffered against the president. With great respect, the courts are not there to be used for this sorts of cases whether to settle political scores or to deal with personal animosity,” Maentje said.
Ramaphosa said he did, in fact, act on Zuma’s complaint and wrote to Zuma, advising, among others, that it would be forwarded to the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services which would then be escalated to the complaints of misconduct to the Legal Practice Council for investigation.
Ramaphosa has maintained that there is no ground for Zuma to pursue criminal charges against him.
The matter will continue on Thursday.