/ 28 September 2023

‘It is not for Zuma to decide who should prosecute him,’ says advocate Geoff Budlender

Jacob Zuma 23 (1)
Former president Jacob Zuma in the Pietermaritzburg High Court. (Rogan Ward/AFP)

Advocate Geoff Budlender SC told the supreme court of appeal in Bloemfontein that allowing former president Jacob Zuma to choose who would prosecute him would mean that any accused person could try “to delay their trial and remove a prosecutor of whom they do not approve”.

Budlender was arguing on behalf of state prosecutor Billy Downer during Zuma’s appeal to overturn a Pietermaritzburg high court ruling against the former president’s attempted private prosecution of Downer. 

Downer is the prosecutor in Zuma’s arms deal corruption trial.

“To allow the private prosecution to proceed would mean that Mr Zuma would be allowed to succeed in his strategy of delay — which this new episode has already achieved in substantial measure — and to continue to attempt to have Mr Downer removed as the prosecutor,” Budlender said.

On 7 June, the Pietermaritzburg high court set aside summonses served by Zuma on Downer and journalist Karyn Maughan and interdicted the former president from pursuing the private prosecution he instituted against them.

Zuma had accused Downer of leaking a letter by a military doctor, submitted in support of an application for a postponement in the arms deal trial in August 2021, to Maughan, who writes for Media24. The letter stated that Zuma needed treatment for an undisclosed ailment, and his lawyers did not claim confidentiality when they filed it to the court.

Advocate Dali Mpofu, arguing on behalf of Zuma, denied that the former president’s private prosecution bid had resulted in any delays in the corruption trial. He said the trial would not be proceeding any time soon, because the former president would again seek to force Downer’s removal as his prosecutor on 26 October.

“So again, the granting or refusal of the present relief had no direct or significant bearing whatsoever on the progress of the public prosecution [of Zuma],” said Mpofu.

He also refuted the Zuma “delay theory” and said if there was any Stalingrad litigation strategy pursued by the former president the court would have picked it up.

Budlender said the strategy had become a “public joke, undermining public confidence in the administration of justice”.

“The private prosecution is part of the Stalingrad strategy, which was announced by Mr Zuma’s counsel and which has been consistently implemented. Its ulterior purpose is transparent.”