Courts are harsh on Zuma, says foundation

By Manyane Manyane Time of article published Nov 23, 2021

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THE Jacob Zuma Foundation believes that the High Court in Pretoria is not using the same standards with respect to the former president as it does with his successor, President Cyril Ramaphosa.

This after the court this week ordered the South African Revenue Service (Sars) to hand over Zuma’s tax records for the years 2010 to 2018 to the Financial Mail and investigative organisation amaBhungane.

In his ruling, Judge Norman Davis said sections of the Promotion of Access to Information Act 2 of 2000 (Paia) and the Tax Administration Act 38 of 2011, which delayed the two publications in accessing the records, were unconstitutional and invalid.

However, the foundation drew parallels with the same court’s ruling on July 20 dismissing the EFF’s application to unseal bank statements relating to Ramaphosa’s CR17 ANC presidential campaign funding.

The EFF had approached the court earlier this year and argued that the CR17 documents be made public in the interest of open justice and public interest.

This was the second blow to the party on the matter after the Constitutional Court dismissed the bid by public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane to overturn the invalidity of her report on the CR17 campaign funding earlier this month, which was set aside by the high court.

On Thursday, Jacob Zuma Foundation spokesperson Mzwanele Manyi said what unfolded in court was quite bizarre, adding that when Ramaphosa’s CR17 documents were supposed to be unsealed the argument from the courts was that it was not in the interests of justice to unseal the documents, but when it came to Zuma's case “it is suddenly in the interests of justice to have the documents published everywhere”.

“The implications are dire because it undermines confidence in the justice system. Furthermore, it also means that the information that people give to Sars is no longer secured.”

Manyi said the case was supposed to be viewed not just as a Zuma case but a case involving any citizen or corporate in South Africa whose confidential tax information would now be laid bare and made public.

“We hope that Sars will appeal this court judgment and mount the same argument as it did at the Constitutional Court.”

Manyi said Zuma had always made it clear that he would present his Sars documents to the public protector if required, “a move which was successfully challenged in court by Sars”.

He added: “Sars’ reputation is on the line and this development, if left unchallenged, might have an impact on revenue collection as people and corporates will now have reservations when it comes to Sars as their confidential information might end up on newspaper front pages.”

He said Zuma’s lawyers were studying the judgment with the view to appeal “this travesty of justice”.

Meanwhile, Sars commissioner Edward Kieswetter said: “I have noted the numerous commentary on the judgment, both in the formal media and social platforms, and I fully understand that the media, tax and legal professionals as well as taxpayers are eager to understand what Sars’ position is and what our intentions are.

“I wish to assure the public that the judgment, and Sars’ options, are currently being fully deliberated and considered.

“Sars wishes to assure taxpayers, traders and tax professionals that the tax confidentiality provisions, as contained in the relevant legislation, remain binding on Sars and all its staff, and that any unauthorised disclosure of confidential taxpayer information remains a criminal offence.”

At the same time, activist and human rights lawyer Richard Spoor said the judgment illustrated the danger of “donor-driven litigation”.

“We find it in the spheres of media and environmental law, among others, where the issues being litigated are not to protect and secure citizens’ rights but to advance donor agendas.

“The litigation around coal (global warming and CO2) is one example. It has less to do with South Africa’s real fears and concerns than donor agendas. There is a risk that public interest litigation is hijacked by large donors and no longer promotes the interests of marginalised South Africans,” said Spoor.

Political analyst Sipho Seepe said the “anti-Zuma brigade” has turned a blind eye to corruption taking place in the private sector and reports of corruption related to “white people and their black lackeys”.

“Interestingly, they have shown no interest in investigating the CR17 funding campaign. Even the so-called champions of transparency have been conspicuously absent on matters relating to Ramaphosa. They are hypocrites of the highest order.

“There is little doubt that the concept of the Bill of Rights does not apply when it comes to Zuma. We should not be surprised. After all, even the Constitutional Court has not seen it fit to protect his rights,” said Seepe.

Political analyst Sethulego Matebesi, from the University of the Free State, said although the ruling violated Zuma’s right to privacy, the court had decided that the public good (the right to information) outweighed the right of the individual.

“This is an unprecedented ruling which will undoubtedly change the manner in which this contentious issue has been dealt with. I hope that such a right to access the information will not encroach on matters beyond tax obligations,” he said.

For Professor Victor Ojakorotu, from the Department of Politics and International Relations at the North West University, the ruling was proof that no one was above the law.

“And it is in tandem with one of the principles of the rule of law, equality before the law. It shows that former president Jacob Zuma, like the ordinary South African, can equally face the wrath of the law if found guilty of an offence. The ruling is a confirmation that the judiciary is independent and that it discharges its functions without fear or favour.”

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