Thapelo Lekabe

By Thapelo Lekabe

Senior Digital Journalist

Ramaphosa’s legal team argues Zuma is trampling on his constitutional rights

Ramaphosa turned to the high court 'to prevent an injustice from occurring' against him and his integrity, argues Advocate Maenetje.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s legal team has argued that the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg is empowered to hear his urgent interim interdict application to halt the private prosecution proceedings brought against him by former president Jacob Zuma.

The president’s lawyers have also contended that his application is urgent because his constitutional rights are being trampled on by Zuma’s “unlawful” private prosecution.

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Ramaphosa vs Zuma

The full bench of the high court on Thursday is hearing Ramaphosa’s application to block the summons for him to appear in court on 19 January in private prosecution proceedings instituted by Zuma.

Ramaphosa approached the high court on an urgent basis after Zuma – on the eve of the ANC’s 55th elective conference in December – charged him with being an “accessory after the fact” in relation to charges his predecessor is pursuing against senior state prosecutor Billy Downer and journalist Karyn Maughan.

Zuma charged Downer and Maughan with contravening the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) Act over the disclosure of a medical note from his doctor – without the authorisation of the national director of public prosecutions – that was filed during Zuma’s arms deal corruption trial.

The former president has accused the pair of colluding to publicly release his medical information on 9 August 2021, even though the medical note was part of the public court record filed by his own legal team.

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The former president has alleged that Ramaphosa committed a criminal offence by not acting against Downer and Maughan when he lodged a complaint with his office on 19 August 2021.

Ramaphosa, on the other hand, has argued that he did not commit any crime because he wrote to Zuma’s legal team on 25 August 2021 informing them that the matter had been referred to Justice Minister Ronald Lamola, and he had asked him to refer the complaint to the Legal Practice Council.

Civil court’s jurisdiction

Advocate Ngwako Maenetje SC, acting on behalf of the president, argued that the high court had the jurisdiction to hear Ramaphosa’s urgent interim application and to grant interim relief.

This after Zuma’s lawyers, in court papers, argued that a civil court wasn’t empowered to suppress a criminal charge before an accused person had pleaded in a criminal court.

Advocate Maenetje said the Promotion to Administrative Justice Act applied to nolle prosequi certificates – granted by the NPA in private prosecutions – and therefore a civil court could hear Ramaphosa’s interdict application and grant him urgent relief.

He referred to several case laws to back up his arguments that the high court was empowered to hear the matter.

“We establish that in terms of its inherent powers [the high court] can intervene by way of review – setting aside or by way of granting a final interdict stopping the private prosecution,” said Advocate Maenetje.

He added: “There is established authority; we haven’t seen authority to the contrary, other than authorities relating to the context of public prosecutions”.

Urgency of interdict application

On the question of the urgency of Ramaphosa’s application, Advocate Maenetje argued that Zuma was infringing the president’s constitutional rights by hauling him to court in private criminal proceedings.

He said this was because Zuma’s lawyers failed to comply with provisions of Section 9 of the Criminal Procedure Act.

The section relates to security, in the form of money, to be deposited by a private prosecutor before taking out or issuing any process commencing a private prosecution.

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“My client has no other remedy to avoid that. [The case] will happen on the 19th of January. And that breach of his rights by being hauled before the court [and] remaining in attendance cannot be reversed,” argued Advocate Maenetje.

Advocate Maenetje further contended that Zuma’s private prosecution proceedings were unlawful because his nolle prosequi certificate was invalid and did not apply to Ramaphosa.

He added Ramaphosa turned to the high court “to prevent an injustice from occurring” against him and his integrity.

“[Ramaphosa] was not even aware of the commission of the crime on 9 August 2021. The commission of the crime was completed at that time [and] the only time he was informed of this, is in the letter of Zuma on 25 August 2021 asking him to investigate.”

The case continues.

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