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By Faizel Patel

Senior Digital Journalist

Court throws out Zuma’s private prosecution, rules it’s part of ‘Stalingrad strategy’

The court ruled that Zuma's private prosecution of Billy Downer and Karyn Maughan was "without any foundation".

Former President Jacob Zuma has been dealt another scathing blow, after the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) unanimously dismissed his bid to challenge the enforcement of the ruling invalidating his private prosecution of state advocate Billy Downer and journalist Karyn Maughan.

The SCA confirmed Zuma’s case against the duo had no foundation and ordered punitive costs.

Zuma was appealing the ruling by the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg in August after it declined to suspend its previous ruling on 7 June.

The court at the time declared the former president’s private prosecution was unlawful and set aside the matter, pending the final determination of Zuma’s application for leave to appeal.

Stalingrad strategy

In Friday’s judgment, which was supported by SCA President Mahube Molemela and three other SCA judges, Judge Nathan Ponnan dismissed Zuma’s appeal against the enforcement of the KZN High Court’s invalidation of his private prosecution.

Ponnan ruled that the private prosecution was “without any foundation in either fact (Mr Downer did not disclose Mr Zuma’s doctor’s report to Ms Maughan and there was no breach of confidentiality or privacy) or law (no cognisable offence has been committed, even if all of the facts alleged by Mr Zuma are true)”, according to News24.

Ponnan further ruled the “the private prosecution is part of the ‘Stalingrad strategy’ announced by Zuma’s counsel to Hugo J over a decade and a half ago, when he said: ‘This is not like a fight between two champ fighters. This is more like Stalingrad. It’s burning house to burning house.’ It is further demonstrated by the patent lack of substance to the charges; by the fact that Mr Zuma has clearly not pursued the prosecution as would someone intent on obtaining a conviction; and, by Mr Zuma’s identification of witnesses.”

ALSO READ: WATCH: Zuma engaged in ‘cynical abuse of the legal system’ − Ngcukaitobi

Abuse of court process

The ruling confirmed the High Court’s finding that the private prosecution was an “abuse of the process of court” that had been pursued for an ulterior purpose.

Ponnan said the ruling of the KZN high court should be upheld.

“On each occasion that the respondents are compelled to appear in the criminal dock, their personal liberty is further inhibited and human dignity further eroded. The indignity is compounded by the personal insults that they, and in particular Ms Maughan, has to endure, especially on social media.

“Mr Zuma shrugs that the social media abuse of Ms Maughan is ‘an occupational hazard’ and ‘comes with the territory. Nothing could be further from the truth. What Mr Zuma fails to appreciate is that these violations constitute a steady erosion not just of her liberty and dignity but will also likely discourage other journalists from reporting on powerful individuals for fear of similar reprisals.

“Guaranteeing the freedom of the press and public confidence in judicial authority and the administration of justice is an ongoing process and requires constant vigilance,” Ponnan ruled.

Zuma’s attacks on judiciary

Ponnan also expressed the courts unhappiness over Zuma’s attacks on the judiciary

“There is nothing on record to sustain the suggestion that the presiding judges in this matter were biased or not open-minded, impartial or fair. The allegations were made with a reckless disregard for the truth. And, whilst not advanced during oral argument, they were not retracted. However, they ought not to have been made at all.

“The propensity to accuse judicial officers of bias, absent a proper factual foundation, is plainly deserving of censure. The respondents argue that Mr Zuma should be penalised with a punitive costs order as a mark of this court’s displeasure and to vindicate the integrity of the High Court and the judiciary, a submission with which I cannot but agree,” the judge ruled.

Arms deal

The former president instituted the private prosecution proceedings against the pair after he accused Downer – the lead prosecutor in his arms deal corruption trial – of leaking his confidential medical information to Maughan in August 2021.

Zuma claimed the “leak” was in breach of the National Prosecuting Authority Act.

However, Downer and Maughan challenged the private prosecution on the basis that Zuma’s medical information was publicly available in court documents and did not include confidential details.

Zuma and French arms company Thales face several charges including fraud, racketeering and money laundering linked to the multibillion-rand arms deal in 1999.

ALSO READ: Zuma dealt a blow after private prosecution of Ramaphosa declared unlawful

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