The Constitutional Court (ConCourt) on Tuesday found former president Jacob Zuma guilty of contempt of court.
Justice Sisi Khampepe, the acting chief justice, delivered the unprecedented majority judgment, saying there could be no doubt Zuma was in contempt of court.
“Never before has the authority and legitimacy of the Constitutional Court been subjected to the kinds of attacks that Mr Zuma has elected to launch against it and its members. Never before has the judicial process been so threatened,” Khampepe said.
She said two judgments were penned by the ConCourt – a majority and a dissenting judgment.
The apex court sentenced Zuma to 15 months in jail. He 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.”
The state capture commission had asked the court to hand down a two-year jail sentence.
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.
The former president previously said he didn’t fear being arrested.
At the time, judgment was reserved and South Africans had been waiting with bated breath to hear whether the ConCourt would impose the two-year jail term the commission had asked for.
One of the reasons Zuma 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.
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.