The South African government does not know exactly how much was spent on former president Jacob Zuma’s legal fees since 2004 when the State took a decision to defend him against any possible criminal charges.
Zuma’s legal costs took centre stage in the Pretoria High Court yesterday after both the DA and EFF questioned President Cyril Ramaphosa’s reply that the state had since 2006 spent R15.3million on Zuma’s legal fees.
In his written affidavit, Ramaphosa admits his figure may have been wrong. The court heard that the State Attorney who initially dealt with the matter had died and some of the documents relating to the legal funding could not be found or were missing.
EFF legal counsel Tembeka Ngcukaitobi was adamant in his submission that Ramaphosa’s response to the DA that the figure was R15.3m did not add up.
“The then minister of justice in August 2008, when asked in Parliament the same question, responded that the figure was R9.6m,” advocate Ngcukaitobi said.
He said the question was again asked in 2012 about how much was spent on legal fees for Zuma since 2009, yet the parliamentary reply was “R8m”.
“In the EFF’s view, more than R32m was spent of Mr Zuma,” Ngcukaitobi said.
The DA’s legal counsel, advocate Sean Rosenberg, also put the figure at more than R15m and asked the full Bench to order the recovery of those funds from Zuma and his legal counsel, Mike Hulley.
But one of the judges, Pieter Meyer, objected to the submission, saying the court should not be turned into a “debt collector” for litigating parties.
Judge Meyer said the State Attorney’s office should be directed to recover those funds.
But Zuma’s legal counsel, advocate Thabani Masuku, said the applications to review the funding decision were futile, as both parties had missed the 180-day deadline to lodge applications to have the decision reviewed.
He said the DA became aware of the decision in September 2008, when one of their parliamentarians formally asked a question of the then minister in the Presidency.
Advocate Masuku was adamant that in terms of the Promotion of Administrative of Justice Act, the DA should have brought a review application within 180 days of having knowledge of such a decision to fund Zuma’s legal fees.
“If the DA had brought their application much earlier, the liability of Mr Jacob Zuma would have been less than it is now. The application, if it was brought much earlier, would have allowed the State Attorney to know his legal obligations,” Masuku said.
He said the DA took almost 10 years to bring such an application, and asked the full Bench of the high court to dismiss both applications.
Masuku also took a swipe at the EFF leader Julius Malema, saying he had been aware that the state was paying for Zuma’s legal fees while he was president of the ANC Youth League.