He has become known as the Teflon man escaping a guilty verdict in a rape case, managing now for years to avoid standing trial, and corruption charges, that is until yesterday, when the Constitutional Court found former President Jacob Zuma guilty of contempt of court. Zuma was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment. He was given five days to hand himself over to the Nkandla or Johannesburg police station to start his jail term. Justice Sisi Virginia Khampepe pointed out that Zuma’s case was exceptional because of his position as a former president, as well as his criticism of the judiciary. Radio Islam discussed the judgement with the executive director of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, Neeshan Bolton.
There seemed to be to some, a sense of anger in the judgment as read by Justice Khampepe – perhaps an indication of how seriously the court viewed his unscrupulous and outrageous behaviour in his treatment of the Constitutional Court. Bolton, however, said that for him there was a sense of gravity regarding the implications of the ruling, as well as the fact that it was unprecedented. He said that the fact that the Concourt took three months to deliberate on an urgent matter, itself, was an indication of just how seriously they had to think the required actions through, not only in terms of the case, but for the functionality of the judiciary, and our systems of governance in this country.
Bolton said that they, at the Foundation, had thought that there were three options for the court. One was to have dismissed the case, which would have had negative legal implications for anybody appearing in court thereafter. The second, which was more likely, was that Zuma was going to be found guilty, but given a suspended sentence. And lastly, was the issue of jail time. Bolton said that he thought that the court, having weighed all of the options, decided that they needed to deal with the behaviour of the former president, which was really precedent-setting for somebody that occupied the position that he did. Bolton said, “An example needed to be set for others who might have been considering following Zuma’s conduct not only in the Zondo commission, but it could have been well applied to any other court or commission of inquiry where they were compelled to appear.” He added, “I thought the judgment was sound, it was well reasoned, and the sentence of 15 months, is symbolic about the fact that nobody, not even former presidents, are above the law.”
While some are calling it a far reaching, or ‘dangerous’ judgment, Bolton said Zuma’s legal team, and his advisors should be sharing his jail cell with him. Bolton had sat in the commission when the former president had first made an appearance. He said, “He (Zuma) answered all of these questions, and when he couldn’t he indicated to the court that he couldn’t. I was there the second time when he walked out of court. Out of the commission itself. Without even indicating that he was not going to be coming back, he simply just stormed out.” Bolton added, “Judge Zondo came back in with a look of shock and horror, because I think he realized that this was a huge challenge to the commission, and to our democratic system.” Bolton said that Zuma had the option of going back to the Commission, but refused to do that. He was then taken to the Constitutional Court. He was compelled to go back to the to the Zondo commission, and refused to do that. Bolton said that the ultimate act of defiance, and arrogance on Zuma’s part, was that he had not even bothered to defend himself in the constitutional court when his case was being heard. He said that Zuma had questioned the legitimacy of the constitutional court, he had questioned the legitimacy of the Zondo Commission, which he himself has brought into being, and to which he had assigned its terms of reference, and therefore created an impression that he was answerable to nobody, but himself. Being a former president, who had on five different occasions sworn to uphold the constitution, it was viewed as reprehensible that Zuma displayed this kind of arrogant behaviour.
Former President Jacob Zuma’s sentence is expected to make anybody who makes unwarranted and unsubstantiated attacks on the Judiciary think twice. Bolton said that it should also make everybody mindful of the power of both our courts and our Constitutional Court in particular. And that ultimately, the judiciary, in the last decade or so, has acted as a saviour for our democracy. Bolton said that in his opinion, “anybody who now tries to denigrate our judiciary, and our constitutional democracy in the way that the former president has done, will likely see similar kinds of actions against themselves.”
It remains to be seen whether former president Zuma will indeed give himself in the next few days, or will be arrested by our national police commissioner and the minister. Neeshan Bolton says if he does not submit to the judgement, he must be arrested, by force if necessary.
Umm Muhammed Umar