/ 2 July 2021

Zuma files papers to have his 15-month sentence set aside

Former president Jacob Zuma
Former president Jacob Zuma. File photo

Former president Jacob Zuma on Friday filed an urgent application to the constitutional court for the rescission of his contempt conviction and accompanying prison sentence of 15 months handed down earlier this week.

The application was filed in terms of rule 42 of the uniform rules of court, read with rule 29 of the constitutional court, which states that a court may vary or rescind a ruling granted in the absence of the affected party.

Zuma invites the apex court to “relook its decision and to merely reassess whether it has acted within the constitution or, erroneously, beyond the powers vested in the court by the Constitution”.

Zuma chose not to oppose the application for a contempt order against him filed by the Zondo commission in February after he failed to heed a summons to testify before it, in direct violation of an order from the apex court compelling him to do so.

He also refused to comply with a directive from the constitutional court in April to submit an affidavit stating what he believed the appropriate sanction would be, should he be found in contempt of court.

Instead, Zuma issued a 21-page missive impugning the commission, the highest court, and the judiciary as a whole. 

In a majority ruling delivered by Justice Sisi Khampepe, the court on Tuesday said his conduct presented an unprecedented case.

“Never before has the legitimacy of this court, nor the authority vested in the rule of law, been subjected to the kind of sacrilegious attacks that Mr Zuma, no less in stature than a former president of this Republic, has elected to launch,” Khampepe said.

The court gave him five calendar days to hand himself over, failing which the minister and national commissioner of police had three days to ensure his arrest. Zuma’s application begs that this part of the court order be set aside too.

In a founding affidavit accompanying his urgent application, the former president insists that the majority ruling was unconstitutional.

He asks that should the court dismiss his application, he be given an opportunity to plead as to whether direct imprisonment is the appropriate sanction for contempt “under the circumstances of my dispute with the commission”.

He asks to be granted direct access to the apex court because no other court would have jurisdiction in the matter, then adds the rider that “the tone in which court conveyed its judicial exasperation and displeasure at my non-compliance with its orders in relation to my appearance at the commission” would normally discourage any applicant from approaching the same bench.

Continuing in this vein, Zuma says he hopes his application will not be regarded as another affront to the court and suggests that it greatly overreacted to what was merely a sincere plea on his part that his review of Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo’s rejection of Zuma’s application for his recusal be heard before he could testify or the courts could weigh in on the matter.

“In the final analysis, taking that stance, ill-advised or not, is my only sin. It was certainly never intended to attract or provoke such judicial ire,” says Zuma.

The application asks that the acting chief justice give further directions for the disposal of the matter and gives the Zondo commission, in the absence of such directions, until next Friday to indicate whether it plans to oppose the relief he seeks.

Counsel for the commission of inquiry into state capture told the Mail & Guardian it would oppose the application.

On Friday Zuma also filed an urgent application in the KwaZulu-Natal high court asking that pending the outcome of his application to the apex court, a warrant for his arrest be stayed.

Khampepe has issued a warrant instructing that he be detained at the province’s Westville prison.