News | South Africa
Jacob Zuma might have managed to dodge the hot seat at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, but it’s come at a cost of 15 months behind bars – and his legal battles are still far from over.
Earlier this week, the Constitutional Court had the last word on the commission’s contempt of court case against Zuma over his refusal to take the stand.
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But while that case has now been put to bed, Zuma still has a number of others on the boil and, as former public protector advocate Thuli Madonsela yesterday told The Citizen, it’s important he’s answerable “for a number of things”.
Madonsela – whose state of capture report was the catalyst for the commission – said it was crucial the former president was called to account for all of his alleged offences.
“It certainly is important that there’s accountability for any and all wrongdoing that each of us are accused of and president Zuma is answerable for a number of things,” she said.
She also said that just because he had escaped from testifying before the commission didn’t mean he was off the hook there.
“If anything, it works against him because the National Prosecuting Authority will now have to work with whatever the commission has and his side of the story will be omitted from the narrative,” she said.
Of the Constitutional Court’s ruling, Madonsela said it was an affirmation of the rule of law.
“Whether you are the cleaner or the president, you are accountable for your actions or inactions. And when a court of law gives you a lawful instruction – whether you like that instruction or not – you have an obligation to do as you are told.
“That is the price we pay for living in a democracy. Should you refuse to obey an order of the court, you do so at your own peril.” She said, however, that her first reaction had been one of “deep sadness” for Zuma.
“Either he was advised wrongly or misled himself,” she explained, “At his age, to go to jail just for refusing to answer questions. There are better things to go to jail for.”
Last year, commission chair Deputy Chief Justice RaymondZondo summoned Zuma to appear before him. This after all his earlier efforts to get Zuma back into the witness box after his 2019 appearance proved unsuccessful.
On the day he was scheduled to take the stand, Zuma brought an application for Zondo’s recusal. And after it was dismissed, he staged a dramatic walk out.
This prompted the commission to approach the Constitutional Court and secure an order compelling Zuma to appear before it.
But he still refused and this is why the court has now found him in contempt. It also, however, triggered a criminal complaint to the police in which Zuma was accused of potentially having contravened the Commissions Act.
And Hawks spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Philani Nkwalase yesterday said this was still under investigation. At a media briefing yesterday, Zondo indicated this week’s ruling might have an impact on the criminal complaint and that he and his team would have to apply their minds to this. But he also said that it still stood.
If the commission does persist with that criminal complaint, Zuma could be looking at up to six months of jail time. There’s also his corruption case over the arms deal, for which he’s due back in the dock of the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg.
Zuma could be looking at additional time if found guilty in that case – and a lot of it, with the minimum prescribed sentence for racketeering (one of the 16 charges he’s facing) – being life in prison.
Then there are any charges he could wind up facing on the back of the commission’s report once it’s been completed. Despite Zuma’s refusal to testify, Zondo can still make adverse findings against him in the final report.