Johannesburg - Former president Jacob Zuma's legal battles are costing him an arm and a leg. And to make matters worse, he no longer enjoys the privilege of a state war chest to foot his legal bills.
His foundation this week reached out to the public asking for donations to help pay the mounting bill. “We humbly request donations support to help cover the legal fees of our patron (sic)” read the plea put out on Twitter.
The plea comes as Zuma continues to receive treatment for an undisclosed medical condition. The stay at the hospital facility follows his incarceration for contempt of court after he defied a Constitutional Court order to appear before the Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture.
Prior to him starting to serve his 15-month jail sentence at the Estcourt Correctional Centre in KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma had been involved in many legal skirmishes, seeing him use high-powered legal teams often at a huge cost.
JG Zuma Foundation spokesperson Mzwanele Manyi was this week not forthcoming about how much is needed nor how much the lawyers are charging the former president. All that he confirmed was that the current legal team headed by Advocate Dali Mpofu, SC, is not representing Zuma pro-bono.
“You would know that all attorneys are running a business of sorts. Why would you even think that this is done on an invoice basis? If it is, what makes you think that we will tell you the rates that people are charging?” Manyi said.
When Zuma parted ways with his previous legal team headed by Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane, SC, working alongside Mabuza Attorneys, Advocate Richard Spoor's firm offered to represent the former president pro-bono. But that relationship did not materialise.
Zuma's combined legal bill since the arms deal corruption saga started before he was even president, is said to be in excess of R18 million, and is likely to climb even further when the fraud and corruption trial eventually gets underway in the Pietermaritzburg High Court.
Legal expert Paul Hoffman estimated that such high-profile cases could cost about R100 000 per day in legal costs, adding that Zuma should pay the costs from his pocket.
“He was not put in the office to make a mess. He was meant to honour his oath of office and he has not. He must pay for that, not the public purse,” said Hoffman.
Governance expert and political analyst Sandile Swana said Zuma had unlawfully funded his legal problems during Thabo Mbeki’s presidency. He said this also continued under the Kgalema Motlanthe, Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa administrations.
“There are no legal grounds for Zuma to be funded by the state in his criminal cases for crimes he committed against the state for personal benefit. Corruption and contempt of court are all private crimes, not committed in the normal course of his state duties,” said Swana.
“Zuma has a mass following in many parts of the country and also in the ANC. He has many sympathisers. This fundraising campaign is another mechanism for Zuma to maintain contact with his support base and give them a mechanism to effectively participate in his continuing battles with the criminal laws of SA.”
Another political analyst, Professor Sethulego Matebesi, said Zuma was entitled to receive support in respect of legal fees as a former president, but cannot expect payment of legal fees if he is facing criminal charges.
“Should he be assisted with funds, the government will be sending the wrong message about its efforts to fight crime and corruption,” Matebesi said.
In the same breath, political analyst Levy Ndou said government’s decision to discontinue funding Zuma’s legal fees was not an easy task.
“There are concerns from some sectors of the South African society that Zuma should foot his legal bill. There is nothing wrong for anyone to ask for donations. Though the legal fees are not mentioned. It appears as if the former president has a huge legal bill.”
“Zuma has been in and out of courts for some time and using different lawyers. That has huge financial implications,” added Ndou.
Professor Ongama Mtimka said: “I think it was well proven that the state abused the provisions to cover people acting on its behalf when it came to legal cover. So, the state attorney found the abuse in paying Zuma’s legal fees. The decision was correct to say that he must pay back those fees.”
“It’s OK for the foundation to raise money for his legal fees. Anybody in SA has liberty to do that. People who feel strongly about his plight may give. But to expect the state to come in is a bit disingenuous and it takes us back to a case that was brought by the DA for his legal fees not to be paid from state coffers,” said Mtimka.
Meanwhile, Professor Sipho Seepe had a different take on the matter. “Where the case involved the individual who acted in fulfillment of the responsibility and function in office, the state is expected to cover the cost. Unfortunately, the courts seem to be gravitating towards penalising errors committed by public office bearers.
"Interestingly the judges do not expect the same treatment in cases where they are found wanting. This is hypocrisy of the highest order. It is precisely because of that, that confidence in the judiciary has calamitously declined,” said Seepe.