President Jacob Zuma was an unreasonable and irrational litigant, and should pay punitive costs in his personal capacity for his abortive attempt to stop the release of former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s state capture report, a full bench of the High Court in Pretoria has ruled.
Gauteng judge president Dunstan Mlambo, along with deputy judge president P Mojapelo and judge DS Fourie said President Zuma’s overall conduct in the protracted litigation surrounding the release of the report left them with no option but to find that he must be held personally liable for all the costs of his attempt to obtain an interdict on October 14 last year, the day on which Madonsela’s report was released.
They said it was clear the president had been aware of serious allegations of state capture against him for six months, but did nothing to state his case. It was also clear he was protecting his personal interests when he came to court seeking an interdict and the taxpayer should not be made to cover the costs.
Judge Mlambo said President Zuma was aware the report had been finalised and should be published, but first tried to stop the release of the report and then attempted to review the report even before it had been released.
The president compounded matters when he persisted with the litigation, based on a supposed typing error, after initially conceding the report should be released if indeed the public protector had finalised it.
The court found President Zuma had been grossly remiss in ignoring all indications that the public protector’s report had been finalised, that he should have realised that and aborted his application.
Mlambo said the President’s persistence to continue with his application amounted to objectionable conduct, a clear abuse of the judicial process and prejudice of the country’s main opposition parties, who were forced to defend their interests.
He said a simply punitive costs order was not appropriate, as it would make the taxpayer liable. The conduct of the president required a rebuke. There is not the slightest doubt that he had no basis to proceed with the application, the judge said.
His conduct resulted in a delay of the public protector’s report, and stifled the public protector’s constitutional duties, Mlambo said.