/ 4 April 2022

Zuma to seek another postponement as he approaches SCA, again

South Africa's President Zuma Launches Trans African Locomotive
Former president Jacob Zuma. (Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Former president Jacob Zuma’s legal team will petition the supreme court of appeal (SCA) president, Judge Mandisa Maya, to reconsider the decision to deny him leave to appeal the dismissal of his special plea in the arms-deal graft case but with no undue haste.

Zuma’s lawyers plan to do so within 30 days of last week’s ruling rejecting his direct bid for leave to appeal and will, in the meanwhile, use the next court date to plead for a postponement pending a response from Maya, said Mzwanele Manyi, the spokesman for the JG Zuma Foundation.

“We are still very much within our time to do what must be done. It is the understanding that we have 30 days to approach Justice Maya,” he said.

Zuma’s counsel will seek “all appropriate remedies, including the reconsideration, variation or clarification of the decision”, in approaching Maya, his eponymous foundation said at the weekend. It added that he would leave no stone unturned to ensure that he has a fair trial.

The corruption trial is set to resume on 11 April, the date set down by Pietermaritzburg high court Judge Piet Koen when he dismissed Zuma’s application to the trial court to appeal the dismissal of the special plea in which he argued that National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) veteran Billy Downer lacked the standing to prosecute him.

Zuma then petitioned the SCA directly. This was widely expected, but his counsel waited to file papers until the last day of the window period to do so.

Manyi said that next week Zuma’s lawyers will voice their unhappiness with the appellate court’s decision and then move for a postponement in the matter, which has been limping along since 2005.

“We will make the point that we think this is a travesty of justice. We know they will say again this is Stalingrad, but we think maybe this is even why they ruled the way they did,” Manyi said.

Zuma’s special plea was twofold, and included another tilt at acquittal. He argued that, should the court accept that Downer lacked the requisite impartiality to prosecute the case, it should follow that the charges of corruption, fraud, money-laundering and racketeering he faces be thrown out. 

Legal precedent was squarely against him, and the application was widely seen as a spurious attempt to play for time and win public sympathy by reviving his lament that the charges were contrived by his political enemies in a novel application.

The SCA held that there was no reasonable prospect of success and on Thursday dismissed his application with costs.

He is unlikely to let the appellate court have the last word. Zuma’s lawyers have wasted no opportunity to argue in the high court that his fair trial rights were being compromised and Manyi confirmed that they may well approach the Constitutional Court.

“I’m sure that will be his last step,” he conceded.The former head of state faces 12 counts of fraud, two of corruption, one of money-laundering and one of racketeering for allegedly taking bribes from French arms manufacturer Thales, through his former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik. 

His foundation has claimed to be “astonished” at the supreme court ruling, alleging that it was “vague” and “ambiguous”. Manyi added that one who had spent money on senior counsel would have expected a more expansive pronouncement from the court.

Zuma had in papers argued not only that Koen erred by relying on the SCA judgments in Ndluli v Wilken NO and Porritt and Another vs National Prosecuting Authority and Others as binding authority for dismissing the special plea, but also that Koen misread the rationale for the Porritt ruling and, further, could not rightly have considered himself bound by it, because he was the first application to seek to disqualify a prosecutor for bias by relying on section 106(1)(h) of the Criminal Procedure Act.

Zuma, who turns 80 next week, has sought  to bolster his case against Downer by filing criminal charges against him for allegedly leaking sensitive information to the media, a charge the NPA firmly denies.

Koen last month made clear that it was in the interest of justice that the criminal trial proceed.

His ruling stressed that it was the prevailing legal view that an appeal, prior to the completion of the criminal trial, should be allowed only if it would lead to the prompt resolution of the main issues between the parties.
That issue, Koen said, was the guilt or otherwise of Zuma.