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Zuma misses court deadline to respond to contempt application

Former president Jacob Zuma
Former president Jacob Zuma.

Former president Jacob Zuma on Monday missed the deadline to file an answering affidavit to the Zondo commission’s application asking the Constitutional Court to sentence him to a punitive prison term for contempt.

The registrar’s office at the court confirmed that by late afternoon Zuma’s legal representatives did not submit any papers in reply to those filed by commission secretary Itumeleng Mosala last month.

This is in keeping with Zuma’s failure to oppose the initial, and eventually successful, application by the commission last year for an order compelling him to heed a summons to testify for five days in mid-February. 

He flouted that order, prompting Mosala to ask the court to find him in contempt and send him to prison for two years.

Not filing an affidavit is also in keeping with Zuma’s legal team’s concession that his battle with the commission is no longer legal, but political.

The former president failed to show at the meeting with the party’s top leadership, which aimed to convince him to appear again before Zondo.

However, according to party spokesperson Pule Mabe, the meeting was held virtually.

For some months, analysts have said the former president was attempting to shift the standoff between him and the commission probing grand corruption during his nine years in office to the political terrain, where he is more comfortable.

Zuma has lived up to this with a series of scalding attacks on the judiciary, particularly on commission chairperson Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, and a steady drip of meetings with political allies at his homestead, Nkandla.

Legally, there is every likelihood that Zuma will be found in contempt for defying the Constitutional Court order handed down on 28 January.

The first three requirements are already in place, in that there was a court order, it was served on Zuma and he failed to comply with it.

The fourth is that the alleged contemnor acted wilfully or in bad faith in defying the court and, once the rest are in place, there is an assumption that this is the case.

Therefore, the onus is now on Zuma to cast reasonable doubt on the assumption that he acted with the intent of undermining the court in defying the order it handed down.

By not filing an affidavit, he is on his way to failing to discharge that onus.

Sources close to the former president said he is counting on the fact that, as a former Umkhonto weSizwe commander, few in the police force would be willing to arrest him, should the court so order.

Zuma has been implicated in state capture more than 40 times in testimony to the commission. 

The long-awaited meeting between Zuma and the ANC’s top officials to discuss his refusal to appear before the Zondo commission, which had also been scheduled for Monday, did not take place at Luthuli House as scheduled, but was held online.

Mabe said in a WhatsApp note that the national officials had met the former president.

“The national officials had very positive and constructive discussions with former president Jacob Zuma,” he said.

It is not clear at this stage whether Zuma agreed to attend the commission, but he has previously stated that he would not appear before Zondo.

Mabe did not respond to further calls for comment.