Pretoria - A bizarre scene played out in court on Friday as a full bench - three judges - including Deputy Judge President Aubrey Ledwaba - was set to hear former President Jacob Zuma’s leave to appeal against the December order that he had to pay back the “illegally used” taxpayers money to defend his corruption trial.
The Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, was ready to hear Zuma’s application, but only Advocate Sean Rosenberg SC, representing the DA was present. Another advocate said she was there as a watching brief for the presidency, who did not oppose the application and who indicated it would abide by the court’s ruling.
But there was no sign of Zuma’s legal team.
Judge Ledwaba had allocated Friday as a special date for the hearing. His office, in an email, conveyed the date via email to Zuma’s legal team.
But while there was no sign of his team in court, by coincidence, Advocate Mike Hellens SC, Zuma’s new advocate in his corruption trial, was seated in the front row alongside Rosenberg. He told the court he was there on an unrelated commercial matter.
Rosenberg, meanwhile, told the court that there was no appearance on behalf of Zuma, who launched the leave to appeal proceedings. The judges turned to Hellens, who also appeared to be confused about the situation.
He said he was not the counsel in this application and although he could make some calls to establish what was going on, it would not be appropriate as he was not involved in this aspect of the matter.
Hellens explained that he was there for an unrelated commercial matter, which was due to proceed after the Zuma application.
Rosenberg also appeared in the dark and said he did receive the message from Judge Ledwaba’s office that the case was due to be heard that day. He said he even confirmed the date with all the parties.
Counsel for the presidency said when she spoke to Zuma’s lawyer, he had no idea the case was in court.
Judge Ledwaba adjourned the proceedings for a few minutes to establish what the problem was. When he came back he cleared up the confusion: It emerged that his office mistyped one letter in the email to the Zuma team and that they never received the notification.
Judge Ledwaba said the sensible thing was to remove the matter from the roll and to find another date when it could be heard.
Zuma meanwhile set out more than 20 reasons as to why he felt the full bench erred in its judgment against him.
He said the order that he should foot his own legal bills violated his right to equality before the law. He wanted the state attorney’s office to prepare a list of beneficiaries of its services in which legal costs were paid in civil and criminal trials on behalf of state officials.
He said he was justified to oppose the order and he believed another court would come to a different finding.