Zuma case riddled with doubts as judge expresses concern over jurisdiction

Judge Jerome Mnguni pressed Zuma's legal team on the question of whether he had the jurisdiction to interfere with the ConCourt’s order.

The first leg of Jacob Zuma’s last ditch bid to escape the 15-month prison term he has been given by the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) for contempt, kicked off before the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg on Tuesday morning.

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And from the get-go, it looked like the embattled former president was facing an uphill battle just to get out of the starting blocks, with Judge Jerome Mnguni – presiding over the proceedings – pressing his legal team on the basic question of whether he even had the jurisdiction to interfere with a higher court’s order.

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Last Tuesday, the ConCourt upheld the Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture’s application to have Zuma held in contempt and sentenced him to 15 months behind bars.

This as a result of his refusal to appear before commission chair, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, to answer questions, even after the country’s apex court ordered him to do so. 

In a shock eleventh-hour bid to try and dodge the inside of a prison cell, though, Zuma’s lawyers – led by advocate Dali Mpofu – have now turned to the courts. This despite his having opted out of participating in any of the proceedings leading up to this point.

They have lodged an application to have the judgment rescinded in the ConCourt and this has been set down for next Monday.

In the meantime, though, they have also lodged an application to effectively stay Zuma’s detention in the high court in Pietermaritzburg. Mguni began hearing arguments on this, on Tuesday morning.

Mpofu started by pointing to the fact that neither the police nor the minister of justice – who were listed as respondents – were opposing the application.

He read directly from a letter the Office of the State Attorney this week wrote to the ConCourt on behalf of the police, indicating that the South African Police Service (Saps) would not move on last week’s order until the pending litigation had been finalised or the apex court had directed otherwise.

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But Mnguni repeatedly pressed Mpofu on the crucial question of whether he had jurisdiction to make the order Zuma was after.

Mpofu on Tuesday relied in part on the fact that Zuma had also brought a challenge to the Criminal Procedure Act, insofar as it doesn’t provide for a trial for in contempt of court proceedings like those he faced, and the fact that this was also brought in the high court.

He argued that, as a result, Mnguni had jurisdiction to hear the current application too.

Mnguni asked Mpofu whether on receipt of the directions from the ConCourt setting the rescission application down for hearing, they had considered approaching the same court to try and stay the execution of the order.

But Mpofu argued one of the things that brought Zuma to this point was that he said he was unable to fund “unnecessary” litigation.

He argued that another court “might” have concurrent jurisdiction, which was in any case “irrelevant”.

The case continues.

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