Riddle of Zuma’s sick note

Former president Jacob Zuma’s questionable medical certificate has raised sufficient concern within the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to prompt the possibility of an investigation into the document.

The doctor’s note, presented to the Pietermaritzburg high court by Zuma’s lawyers this week, was deemed to be insufficient proof of the former head of state being indisposed.

Among the concerns raised by Judge Dhaya Pillay were its vague nature and the fact that dates appeared to have been altered, without a corresponding signature from the issuing doctor.

The certificate listed Zuma’s diagnosis as a “medical condition” and did not provide further detail. The date had been changed to January 6, but was not initialled by the doctor who issued it.

Although Zuma’s lawyer, Daniel Mantsha, told the court that Zuma had undergone two surgical procedures on January 7 and 9 and could not travel on January 23, when he was supposedly meant to go to Cuba, the Mail & Guardian can reveal that the former president’s travel date of January 27 was finalised as far back as the second week of January and was not a last-minute decision.

“During the week of January [7] president Zuma underwent two surgeries and given his age and the fact that he didn’t recover much quicker … that affected the time of departure on the 23rd of January … He eventually travelled on the 27th of January,” Mantsha told the court.

The timing of Zuma’s travel dates to Cuba, with him departing on January 27, would have left him with roughly four days to undergo his medical treatment and recuperate before travelling back to South Africa. On this schedule, Zuma would have been hard pressed to attend court on February 4.

Mantsha had not responded to requests for comment about when the presurgery assessment was conducted, by which anaesthetist, and who had cleared Zuma to fly after two surgeries.

Sources have told M&G that Zuma has been in Pretoria — with his fourth wife Bongi Ngema- Zuma — since he left Nkandla in the first week of January after spending Christmas with his family at the homestead. He has not been to Nkandla or to Durban — where his third wife, Thobeka Madiba-Zuma, lives — since then. He flew out of the country on January 27 and was only expected to return in March.

It was reported in Sunday World that the two are now estranged after claims that Madiba-Zuma had taken some of Zuma’s sim cards without his permission.

It is understood that Zuma told those close to him that he had been poisoned again. It is unclear who he blamed for this. Zuma has openly spoken about his alleged poisoning previously. In 2017 he was quoted as saying that he had been poisoned three times by someone close to him.

“I was poisoned and almost died just because South Africa joined Brics [the Brazil, India, China, Russia, South Africa bloc] under my leadership. They said I was going to destroy the country.”

The M&G has now established from different sources in the government that the SANDF had been considering an investigation into the sick note handed in to the court during the week, but that it was called off at the highest level because it was felt that the matter was before the courts.

As a former president, Zuma is treated by the South African Military Health Services (SAMHS).

At the centre of the concern in the corridors at SANDF is that the sick note, which was signed off by Dr Zakes Motene — who is assigned to Zuma as his doctor — could be a forged document because the dates appeared to have been altered.

A government official who is aware of the concerns said: “The sick note is the one that we use at defence. The problem is that there are dates which were changed there and that is what the investigation would have focused on. But those that are in power said this should be dealt with by lawyers who are already at court.”

The M&G has also confirmed that Motene was part of the SANDF team that accompanied Zuma late last year when he went for medical treatment in Cuba, leaving him unable to attend the Zondo commission of inquiry.

Zuma was in Cuba in early December last year — travelling with a personal assistant and doctor. He travelled back to South Africa on December 8 via Paris on a commercial flight. He landed in the French capital on the morning of December 8 and was received by the South African diplomatic office, after which he was checked into a hotel where he spent a few hours to refresh before boarding an 11pm flight for Johannesburg.

“As a doctor he [Motene] has a right to travel with his patient and also issue a sick note,” said another source in government with knowledge of the SANDF’s medical practices. “It is normal that the Cuban doctors would tell the former president’s doctor that he will be booked off for a certain period and, as the president’s doctor, he can issue a sick note. In this instance, this note doesn’t look genuine and it was definitely altered or forged.”

Another government source said: “Dr Motene is part of the team that sees to the medical needs of the former president … SAMHS will be responsible for any diagnosis and treatment required by [Zuma]. They would also make the referral to any other medical facility, should the treatment required not be available at a military medical facility.”

The source said that the medical certificate appeared to be a legitimate SAMHS document, multiple copies of which would have been generated in terms of military protocol. “All military documents would be duplicated, with copies retained by the issuing medical officer; the institution from which it was issued and pharmacy services.” — Additional reporting by Paddy Harper

We make it make sense

If this story helped you navigate your world, subscribe to the M&G today for just R30 for the first three months

Subscribers get access to all our best journalism, subscriber-only newsletters, events and a weekly cryptic crossword.”

Thanduxolo Jika
Thanduxolo Jika

Thanduxolo Jika is an investigative Journalist and Co-Author of We are going to kill each other today:The Marikana Story. The Messiah of Abantu.

Related stories


Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Latest stories

Energy department wastes R20.7-million in bungled solar geyser project

Of 87 206 solar geysers procured, only 61 000 were delivered, and fewer than 3 200 were installed

Tunisia struggles to grow more wheat as Ukraine war bites

Since the Ukraine war sent global cereal prices soaring, import-dependent Tunisia has announced a push to grow all its own durum wheat, the basis for local staples like couscous and pasta.

Democracy under serious and sustained attack from within the US

Far-right Republicans and the conservative supreme court are working on a carefully laid plan to turn the US into a repressive regime

Grilling for UK leader Boris Johnson after top ministers quit

The prime minister has faced lawmakers' questions after two of the most senior figures in his government resigned. The finance and health ministers said they could no longer tolerate the culture of scandal

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…