Presidential court battle looms

President Cyril Ramaphosa has hit back at former president Jacob Zuma, giving him until Monday to withdraw his private prosecution. Graphic: Mallory Munien.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has hit back at former president Jacob Zuma, giving him until Monday to withdraw his private prosecution. Graphic: Mallory Munien.

Published Dec 18, 2022


Johannesburg - A titanic battle like no other is looming as the country's former and current heads of state threaten each other with court action.

Following Jacob Zuma's private prosecution jab at Cyril Ramaphosa, the latter retaliated and demanded that “Msholozi” withdraw his action or face another legal tussle.

Ramaphosa accuses his predecessor of trying to frustrate his re-election as ANC leader at the party’s national conference. He has given Zuma until tomorrow (MONDAY) to withdraw his private prosecution or face further legal action for abusing court processes.

Zuma issued a summons against Ramaphosa on the eve of the ANC national conference in Nasrec for the alleged contravention of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) Act concerning the disclosure of the former president’s medical records by prosecutor Billy Downer and News24 journalist Karyn Maughan.

“The purported summons was served on the president a day before the 55th national conference of the ANC was due to commence. It is common knowledge that the president will stand for re-election as a presidential candidate. It appears that the purported summons was served to halt this candidature. This is an abuse of process,” reads the letter dated, December 17, from the Office of the State Attorney, which represents Ramaphosa in the matter.

According to the president’s lawyers, Zuma must withdraw the invalid summons on the basis that each party pays their own costs.

“Should your client (Zuma) not do so by December 19, 2022, we reserve the right to take such further steps as may be required and shall seek punitive costs against your client for the wasteful costs arising therefrom,” threatened the office of the state attorney.

Ramaphosa, through his lawyers, said Zuma does not have any title to prosecute as it is established that if a private prosecutor has an ulterior motive with the prosecution, or lacks interest, then the title of the prosecutor is lacking.

“Given the fundamental defects with the content and service of the document served on the president, the president is entitled to ignore it. No person is entitled to act on the summons to disadvantage the president or adversely affect his rights,” his lawyers stated.

The president complained that the document delivered to his private residence did not include a nolle prosequi certificate (a certificate indicating that the NPA declines to prosecute) concerning him and therefore has nothing to do with him.

Zuma in his swipe at Ramaphosa said he would take the witness stand and testify against him. Zuma's charges against Ramaphosa form part of his continuing legal dispute with Downer and Maughan over the alleged unlawful leak of his medical records.

Downer and Maughan also appear on Zuma's witness list, as well as Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola and Charity Nzuza of the Legal Practice Council.

Zuma's lawyers wrote to Ramaphosa on the same matter in a letter dated August 19, 2021, “requesting and/or demanding that (Ramaphosa) take all the necessary steps to ensure the institution of an urgent investigation and/or inquiry into the conduct and/or alleged misconduct of the relevant public institutions and/or officials acting in their capacities as ”state functionaries“.

Seven days later on August 25, 2021 Ramaphosa “acknowledged the seriousness of the conduct complained about by (Zuma) and claimed to have referred the matter to (Lamola)".

“To date (Ramaphosa) has omitted and/or failed to take action and/or institute or cause to be instituted an enquiry against any of the officials and/or state functionaries complained about, thereby wrongfully, unlawfully, and intentionally acting in furtherance of the commission of the said offences or to take any steps to bring the perpetrators and/or accomplices to justice,” Zuma argued in the copy of an indictment attached to the summons that he served on Ramaphosa on Thursday.

Consequently, said Zuma, Ramaphosa was guilty of contravention of the National Prosecuting Authority Act “as an accessory after the fact”. He said that Ramaphosa's failure to act on the matter “enabled the perpetrator/s of and/or accomplices in the offence(s) to evade liability for their actions”.

He said Ramaphosa “facilitated such persons' evasion of liability and/or escaping of justice at the expense of injuring (his) dignity, privacy, bodily integrity and security rights“.

Alternatively, he said, Ramaphosa committed the offence of obstructing or attempting to obstruct the ends of justice and “did unlawfully and intentionally obstruct and/or attempt to obstruct the course or administration of justice“.

He said that Ramaphosa, despite acknowledging the seriousness of the conduct complained of, “has to date failed to take or follow up on any of the undertaken action and/or institute the requested enquiry against any of the officials and/or state functionaries complained about thereby making himself guilty as charged as in the summons and/or indictment”.