/ 21 September 2021

Zuma reverts to attacking Constitutional Court bench after rescission denial

Safrica Politics Court Crime Zuma
Former president Jacob Zuma’s (right) says he is a political prisoner. (Rogan Ward/AFP)

Former president Jacob Zuma returned to his invective against the judiciary on Monday in the wake of the constitutional court’s dismissal of his rescission application, accusing it of having forsaken the Constitution for the sake of political persecution.

In a four-page statement issued by his eponymous foundation, Zuma said he had a right to criticise judges and reiterated his accusation that the country had become a “dictatorship” run by the judiciary.

“I have been rebuked for my public comments about the conduct of certain members of the judiciary and I do not understand why.”

Zuma was harking back to an incendiary statement he issued in late March, after the court heard arguments from the legal counsel for the Zondo commission that he be jailed for contempt for defying an order that he testify in the state capture inquiry. 

His attacks on the integrity of the judiciary were considered an aggravating factor when he was sentenced to 15 months in prison in late June.

“It is my constitutional right to publicly critique judges the same way they have a right to critique me as a politician,” he said on Monday. 

“Freedom of expression is a fundamental right in our Bill of Rights and for that to be used against me as aggravation in imposing a sentence for civil contempt is another of the many anomalies I remain a victim of in this emerging constitutional dictatorship.”

Zuma claimed that he was not the first person to cast doubt on the independence of the judiciary in the context of his battle with the commission. He said former public protector Thuli Madonsela did as much when she directed that it be chaired by a judge appointed not by him but by the chief justice.

It lent “credence to the idea that there are some judges who are not independent”, he said. 

‘’This posture by the public protector was not perceived as an attack on the integrity of our judges and was instead accepted as plausible by the judge president of [the] Gauteng division of the high court,” he said, not for the first time challenging the integrity of Judge Dunstan Mlambo.

He then proceeded to again attack that of Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, and said he did not oppose the commission’s application for a contempt order because he believed that the matter rightly belonged in a lower court as this was what the Commission Act dictated.

‘’The constitutional court in this case somehow found it fitting to deviate from its own rules and it was again another case of the laws and the constitution being bent and manipulated to specifically deal with Zuma,” he said.

“Once the whole contempt debacle had run its full course with judge Zondo’s subordinates presiding over a matter that had directly called into question his integrity as a judge, the constitutional court again made decisions and took actions that have never been taken in our law by asking that I do a mitigation of sentence where there had been no conviction.”

It is a reference to Friday’s rejection of his rescission application in a majority ruling penned by Justice Sisi Khampepe, who said Zuma was the author of his own legal undoing because he elected to be absent from the proceedings. 

“He only hopes to justify his absence now that the shoe pinches,” Khampepe said.

As he did after the June ruling, Zuma again tried to lean on the findings of the minority, this time the dissenting opinion of justices Chris Jafta and Leona Theron which have raised some apprehension among scholars.

“I feel vindicated in that it still remains the contention of the minority judges that everything that has happened since then has been unconstitutional. It has never happened that in a dissenting decision of the constitutional court that the dissenting judges go as far as accusing their colleagues of acting unconstitutionally.”

Though a stinging legal defeat, the rescission ruling is moot in the sense that Zuma was granted medical parole by correctional services commissioner Arthur Fraser earlier this month. The decision is now the subject of a high court review application.