Zuma’s Concourt claims at best misleading, at worst plain lies

Some of the former president's claims have been shown to be patently untrue, with one legal mind describing them as 'phantasmagorical'.

Former president Jacob Zuma put up a battle-ready front on Sunday night, addressing the drama surrounding the Constitutional Court’s damning ruling against him and insisting, among others, he never refused to appear before the commission and was effectively being subjected to detention without trial.

On closer inspection, though, many of his bold claims reveal themselves as at best misleading and at worst plain lies.

The Constitutional Court last Tuesday ruled in favour of the State Capture Commission in the contempt case it brought against Zuma over his refusal to take the stand and answer questions, despite the same court having previously ordered him to do so.

He was slapped with 15 months behind bars and given five days to hand himself over to police. In the event he didn’t – which is how things have now panned out – the court ordered the SAPS to ensure Zuma was delivered to prison within three days after that.

But in a last ditch effort to try and avoid the slammer, Zuma’s lawyers have now turned to the courts. Late last week, they approached the Constitutional Court with a rescission application. And at the same time, they also approached the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg with an application to effectively stay Zuma’s detention in the interim.

Fact-checking Zuma:

During Sunday night’s briefing, Zuma was adamant that he “never refused to appear before the commission”.

In announcing his plans to move an application to have Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo – who’s also chairing the commission – recuse himself, Zuma’s lawyers in September said he would “take no further part” in the proceedings until that application had been finalised.

During arguments, too, his advocate, Muzi Sikhakhane SC, said if Zuma were forced to appear that he would “exercise his right to say nothing.”

Zuma on Sunday also claimed he was “lambasted with a punitive jail sentence without a trial” and likened the contempt of court proceedings he was subjected to, to detention without trial under apartheid.

Again, though, this is a disingenuous comparison.

As legal expert advocate Paul Hoffman SC pointed out on Monday, the proceedings in question were civil contempt proceedings in which Zuma wasn’t entitled to a trial.

“It is regarded in law as an urgent matter that can be dealt with on paper rather than at trial and that has always been the case, since time immemorial,” he said – describing this as “a well-established practice in South African law.”

Moreover, Zuma was in fact afforded the opportunity to take part in the contempt of court proceedings – more than once. He refused.

Justice Sisi Khampepe – who penned the apex court’s majority judgment – laid out the extent to which the commission and the court went to in order to give Zuma an opportunity to participate, even going so far as to reach out to him after the hearing and invite him to make submissions.

As Dr Llewelyn Curlewis – who lectures law at the University of Pretoria – said, there was no doubt the audi alteram partem principle (that both sides are heard) was adhered to.

“Strictly speaking, there wasn’t even a contested or an opposed application before the Constitutional Court,” he said.

Zuma on Sunday was also adamant there could not be special laws just for him.

Again, though, this is simply not the case.

“We are all equal before the law,” said Hoffman, “For him to think he’s the only person who’s ever been charged with contempt of court is phantasmagorical”.

Curlewis agreed, emphasising the Constitutional Court in fact “bent over backwards to give him a second bite at the cherry” and that if anyone had been afforded an advantage, it was Zuma himself.

There have been questions raised around whether Zuma’s pending court action automatically suspends his detention but Professor Pierre De Vos – also a constitutional law expert – yesterday penned a blog in which he said the position of the courts was that it did not.

“This means that unless Mr Zuma’s application to the High Court to stay the order is successful, the Minister of Police and the National Commissioner of the South African Police Service would be in contempt of the Constitutional Court order if they did not take all necessary steps to have Mr Zuma arrested by Wednesday,” said De Vos.

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