Reacting to the news that former president Jacob Zuma must be imprisoned within five days for 15 months for contempt of court, Zuma’s spokesperson, Mzwanele Manyi, slammed the Constitutional Court’s ruling.
Manyi said it was “a sad day”, adding that if the judgment had been unanimous, then Zuma and his foundation would have accepted it. The ruling cannot be appealed.
However, all the judges had been in agreement that Zuma was in contempt and there was only some disagreement from two or three of them on the correct sentence, with a minority arguing a suspended sentence would have been more appropriate.
Manyi was speaking to eNCA’s Annika Larsen right after the judgment was delivered. Larsen pointed out that a split on the Bench was not unusual, but Manyi maintained it was evidence of constitutional jurisprudential discord.
Zuma had said in an earlier letter to the court that he was willing to become “a prisoner of the Constitutional Court”, and had declined to give input on what his punishment should be when invited to do so by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, who is now on leave.
The state capture commission had initially asked for Zuma to be imprisoned for two years.
Manyi relied on the minority judgment as evidence that the court was in a constitutional crisis. He lauded the judges who had supposedly not wanted to immediately imprison Zuma, claiming they had relied on the law while the other seven judges had not.
In his view, they were just “gatvol” with Zuma and had made their decision based on their opinions and, allegedly, not the law.
“We have a crisis when we have the people that are entrusted with protecting and defending the constitution and the rights of individuals … if those people are saying that we have a judgment that is coercive … that a person must hang himself … in a situation that is not even appealable … then we have a constitutional crisis,” he told Larsen.
He accused the justices of “cherry-picking which side of the pie is sweeter”, when it had come to punishing Zuma.
Justice Sisi Khampepe, the acting chief justice, had delivered the unprecedented majority judgment, saying there could be no doubt that Zuma was in contempt of court.
“The issues at the heart of this matter are irrefutably constitutional. Never before has the authority and legitimacy of the court been subjected to such an attack and been so threatened,” Khampepe said.
She said two judgments were penned by the ConCourt – a majority and a dissenting judgment.
Zuma was ordered to report to the Nkandla or Johannesburg police stations within five days to start serving his prison sentence.
“The majority judgment holds that Zuma is no ordinary litigant, but a political figure who holds great power and who could instigate others to disregard the rule of law.”
In March, the ConCourt heard an application from the commission to have Zuma held in contempt over his refusal to take the stand, despite a court order.
The contempt of court proceedings were heard unopposed after Zuma made no submissions to the court in response.
Justice Khampepe said there was no sound or logical basis that Zuma could claim to have been treated unfairly by the commission. She said if Zuma did not want to participate in the commission’s hearings, he could have sought an interim stay of proceedings.
The Helen Suzman Foundation was admitted as amicus curiae in the case.
One of the reasons Zuma has argued for his defiance was that he was still waiting for the outcome of his high court application challenging Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo’s decision in November 2020 not to recuse himself from hearing his testimony at the commission.
The ConCourt found that instead of Zuma giving the court mitigating factors in his contempt of court case, Zuma addressed a 21-page letter to Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng attacking the courts.
Khampepe said the unfounded attacks on the judiciary by Zuma could not be met with impunity.
“Zuma’s attacks on the judiciary are not substantiated and are not tolerable in our democratic dispensation,” she said.
– Additional reporting, Thapelo Lekabe