Former president Jacob Zuma’s non-appearance in the Pietermaritzburg high court on Tuesday for a pre-trial hearing in his fraud and corruption case sparked its own drama when the court issued a warrant for his arrest.
However, the warrant, issued at the request of prosecutor Billy Downer SC, was stayed until Zuma’s next appearance in court, scheduled for May 6.
Zuma had been scheduled to appear on fraud and corruption charges relating to a series of payments he received from his former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, and French arms dealer Thint (formerly Thales), during the 1990s.
Shaik was jailed for 15 years over the payments, but was later released on medical parole.
The former president’s legal team had provided the court with a medical certificate, issued by the South African Military Health Service in Pretoria, stating that he was undergoing medical treatment in a foreign country and could not make it to court.
His attorney, Daniel Mantsha, told the court that Zuma had undergone two operations in January and was abroad receiving further treatment. He did not disclose the nature of the treatment, but said Zuma had been out of the country since January 23.
Dower told the court that the court needed to hold an inquiry relating to Zuma’s failure to appear, as it would with any other accused person. In the meantime, a warrant of arrest had to be issued.
Downer said the prosecution was “obliged” to assist the court in evaluating any medical evidence presented to the court by Zuma’s legal team.
“This is the procedure in respect of any accused. We treat all accused equally,” Downer said.
Mantsha said it was “absurd” that the authenticity of medical documents from the South African National Defence Force medical services should be questioned.
However, Judge Dhaya Pillay issued the warrant, saying that the details provided were insufficient and did not inform the court of the condition the former president was suffering from.
If Zuma does appear on May 6, his case is still not likely to proceed. This is because the former head of the state’s legal team has submitted an application to the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) to appeal against a court ruling setting aside his application for a permanent stay of prosecution.
This will have to be heard before the criminal matter can proceed.
Democratic Alliance justice spokesperson Glynnis Brytenbach, welcomed the issuing of the warrant. “The court’s decision is encouraging as it sends a message … that no one is above the law and that all those who have had a hand in defrauding the state should have their day in court.”
Zuma has also failed to appear before the Zondo Commission into state capture because of ill health.