What is wrong with him?
When Advocate Wim Trengove asked the question in court this week after Jacob Zuma failed to appear for the hearing of his special plea for acquittal in his corruption trial, he might have been speaking for the country at large.
Of course, Zuma’s lawyers played their part, but it is their job to get their client out of prison — and keep him out. Of course, it would also be naive to think that Fraser operated as a lone political rogue when he overruled the parole board’s refusal this month to release Zuma on grounds of ill health.
Fraser was kept in service by President Cyril Ramaphosa for obscure reasons, recycled from state security to correctional services. The presidential reasoning for tacitly approving Zuma’s release on medical parole is more readily apparent.
It can be found partly in the violent unrest of the first week of July stirred by Zuma’s sycophants, and partly in the upcoming local government elections in November, where the ANC feared losing ground in Zuma’s home province if he were left in prison to serve his contempt sentence.
Such is politics, but the cynicism sits less easily when the actions of the state shake our faith that in the end the law will prevail.
For the first half of this year, as Zuma hurled invective at the judiciary and the Zondo commission, that hope just about held, because it is ingrained, justified and our last ounce of optimism. Remember that Ramaphosa and Ronald Lamola defended the courts and the constitutional order.
The optimistic view is that the Constitutional Court’s decision to hear Zuma’s spurious rescission application, and last week’s majority ruling by Justice Sisi Khampepe, saw the court reaffirm the law and reject any notion it should be widened to fit his wish for impunity.
But it is hard to see how the dissenting judgments, described as judicial “decadence” for their flaws, take us further. Instead they add to the doubts raised by the John Hlophe saga.
By Monday, Zuma was back at accusing the highest court of judicial tyranny. We know that he is no longer in hospital. We know from court papers that the state’s medical experts believe he is well enough to stand trial for corruption. He still has a long court battle ahead in Pietermaritzburg, but we know if he loses in law he might win in politics.