/ 12 September 2023

High court denies Zuma leave to appeal against Ramaphosa

Jacob Zuma 22 (1)
Former president Jacob Zuma. File photo

The Johannesburg high court on Tuesday denied former president Jacob Zuma’s leave to appeal the invalidation by the high court of his private prosecution of President Cyril Ramaphosa.

It was a unanimous decision, and the apex court awarded costs against Zuma.

The Johannesburg high court set aside the private prosecution as unlawful and unconstitutional in July after finding that Zuma acted with ulterior purpose, rendering it an abuse of process.

The court dismissed Zuma’s stated reason for serving summons on his successor the day before the start of the conference — that he needed to get the ball rolling before the holiday season — as “far-fetched”.

Ramaphosa had said it pointed to a desperate political stunt, designed to rob him of a second term as leader of the ruling party.

Zuma purported to charge him as an accessory after the fact to the alleged leaking of medical information by Billy Downer, the state prosecutor in his arms deal corruption trial, to the media. 

He argued that his complaint against the president stemmed from the latter’s alleged failure to hold an inquiry into Downer’s conduct.

Zuma’s attempted private prosecution of Downer was brought to a halt by the Pietermaritzburg high court in June. The court found that it too was an abuse of process, as the former president had come to the court with “unclean hands”.

On Monday, the Pietermaritzburg high court denied Zuma leave to appeal that ruling.

In Ramaphosa’s challenge to Zuma’s bid to prosecute him, the president submitted that he had referred Zuma’s complaint to Justice Minister Ronald Lamola and advised him to refer the matter to the Legal Practice Council, noting that he had neither the power nor any intention to interfere with the independence of the National Prosecuting Authority. 

The Johannesburg high court noted that Zuma also never bothered to inquire about progress made in investigating his complaint to the president, before serving summons on Ramaphosa.

And it said since Zuma’s charge clearly rested on conduct that did not constitute a criminal offence, his attempt to prosecute the president could not lead to a conviction.

“Therefore, the private prosecution constitutes an abuse of process. Hence it stands to be declared unlawful, unconstitutional, invalid, and set aside.”