Jacob Zuma says he will go to jail as a conscientious objector

26 March 2021 - 07:27
Former president Jacob Zuma says he believes history will absolve him. File photo.
Former president Jacob Zuma says he believes history will absolve him. File photo.
Image: Alon Skuy/Sunday Times

In an ominous statement sent out late on Thursday, Jacob Zuma left a Sword of Damocles hanging over the country when he spoke about a revolution by “ordinary people like me”.

His 2,000-word statement pre-empted a judgment by the Constitutional Court after it  heard submissions from state capture inquiry counsel Tembeka Ngcukaitobi on Thursday.

Ngcukaitobi called for Zuma to be jailed for ignoring a ConCourt ruling which ordered him to appear before the inquiry chaired by deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo.

Zuma did not participate in the hearing on Thursday.

In his lengthy statement, he attacked the judiciary as a whole and specifically singled out Zondo and justice Dhaya Pillay, who he accused of bias.

Pillay issued a warrant for Zuma when he failed to appear in the Pietermaritzburg high court in February last year for his corruption trial. Zuma’s legal team presented a sick note from a military hospital but Pillay dismissed it due to discrepancies, such as the alteration of dates.

On March 25 2021, the Constitutional Court heard an application by the state capture inquiry for former president Jacob Zuma to be jailed for two years if he is found guilty of contempt of court. Zuma was given until March 8 to file his replying affidavit, but he hasn't made submissions.

In his statement, Zuma said: “Ordinarily and if I had faith that a South African court would consider my submissions, I would present them to the Constitutional Court.

“However, my experience is that many SA judges, including those of the Constitutional Court, can no longer bring an open mind to cases involving me as they have done in awarding legal costs against me in a case I had not participated in.

“I believe history will absolve me. I know I have dedicated my life to the cause of advancing the interests of my people. I will serve the term of imprisonment imposed by the Constitutional Court [judgment was reserved in the case so this outcome is yet to be determined] that has already become the focus point of the defend our democracy campaign.

They can put my physical body behind prison doors. However, my spirit is free to speak against the injustice of the imprisonment.
Jacob Zuma

"This campaign is dangerous to our democracy and when its true fruits are seen in time, I will be vindicated.

“All I said is that I am not afraid of going to jail, as I was not under the apartheid system. However, I will not subject myself to an oppressive and unjust court system.

“They can put my physical body behind prison doors. However, my spirit is free to speak against the injustice of the imprisonment.

“Our people – ordinary people – will gain their voice and when they do, not even the Constitutional Court will not be spared the rigorous questions.”

Zuma laid into the ConCourt, saying it had “drawn an oppressive line against my right to have a review application” and vowed to serve his time in prison but said history would absolve him.

This would happen after “people rise up against this judicial corruption” and “our young democracy” unravels, with democratic gains “lost in the ashes that will be left of what used to be our democratic state”.

In a unanimous decision on January 28, the ConCourt ordered Zuma to abide by a summons issued by the state capture inquiry to appear before it, and said he should do so on  February 15.

The ConCourt also declared that Zuma does not have the right to remain silent before the inquiry, but witnesses are entitled not to incriminate themselves.

Zuma defied the order, claiming Zondo was biased and was being used as a political tool against him.

His refusal to appear before the inquiry followed his testimony in July 2019, during which he failed to answer 36 questions.

As president during what many witnesses have characterised as a period of corruption and mismanagement, Zuma is a central figure in the inquiry and the commission has said its work will be incomplete without his version.

Zondo has made clear, however, that he will make findings whether or not Zuma testifies.

The inclusion of justice Dhaya Pillay was indeed curious, if one considers her historical hostility and insults against me.
Jacob Zuma

Although the inquiry is not a court which can find Zuma guilty and jail him, the former president’s defiance could put him behind bars.

In his statement late on Thursday, Zuma said the ConCourt heard “all sorts of untruthful and selective averments" against him on Thursday  when he chose not to take part in the hearing.

"Many of these missed my real concerns which have compelled me to take the stance I have taken,” he said.

“At the outset, I wish to state that the public would have noticed the composition of the Constitutional Court this morning. The inclusion of justice Dhaya Pillay was indeed curious, if one considers her historical hostility and insults against me. That she was included in this particular matter demonstrates the crises engulfing our judiciary.”

He claimed Pillay had previously “insulted” him by insinuating in a judgment that “I am a wedge driver with a poisonous tongue”.

Zuma said: “It is the same judge who issued a warrant of arrest against me as she refused to accept a medical report from the surgeon-general of the SA National Defence Force.

“The same judge said ‘it is in fact Mr Zuma who damaged the reputation of the ANC as a result of the allegations of fraud and corruption levelled against him. Removing Mr Zuma was therefore consistent with the country’s constitution and in the interests of the ANC and the people of SA’.

My experience is that many South African judges, including those of the Constitutional Court, can no longer bring an open mind to cases involving me.
Jacob Zuma

"This was said in a case that had nothing to do with my role in the ANC and government.  I would have expected that a court, acting impartially, would have the conscience of mind to exclude a judge who has made such statements against the subject of a matter before them.”

Zuma said the reason he did not make representations to the ConCourt was because he did not have faith in it.

“Many SA judges, including those of the ConCourt, can no longer bring an open mind to cases involving me,” he said.

“The Constitutional Court has allowed itself to be abused in this manner and the repeated warnings I have made in this regard continue to go unheard simply because they emanate from me."

He called the inquiry inefficient and incompetent and said this was the basis for an urgent application to the Constitutional Court, based on the fact that the inquiry was running out of time.

“The fact is that it is the commission has failed to regulate its own costs and processes in allowing itself to waste time pursuing all sorts of evidence under the sun that had nothing to do with their terms of reference,” he said.

“In addition to that, the commission has never been truthful about its own inefficiencies that include hiring expensive premises with extravagant extras and overstaffing with expensive investigators and legal personnel that caused the costs of the commission to grossly exceed its initial allocated budget.”

The inquiry was announced to investigate allegations of state capture while Zuma was still president in 2017.

Finance minister Tito Mboweni announced in his budget speech that the commission would not get another budget extension and a Pretoria high court order has given it until  June 30 to finish its investigation.

Zuma said he was being punished for “revenge’s sake” for expressing his “disapproval of what I deem to be an abuse of legal processes by people who should know better, judges  in whom we vest public power to protect the rule of law and the constitution”.

I do not stand against the rule of law but seek to defend my own rights against the onslaught emanating from the commission and our courts.
Jacob Zuma

He said: “The insistence made on behalf of the commission that I must be incarcerated revealed the hostility of the commission against me.”

He claimed the commission had joined a political campaign to “destroy” him.

“It also reveals this was always the commission’s mandate,” he said.

“I have stated previously that mine is a conscientious objection to the abuse of legal processes. I do not stand against the rule of law but seek to defend my own rights against the onslaught emanating from the commission and our courts.”

He claimed “various forces claiming to be defending the constitution” were a “sponsored attempt” at exerting influence over the ConCourt to find against him.

He appeared to be referring to the Defend Our Democracy campaign joined by more than 300 influential South Africans across the political and societal spectrum, including Rev Frank Chikane, Saths Cooper, Cheryl Carolus, Mavuso Msimang, Sipho Pityana, Neeshan Balton, Busisiwe Mavuso, Adrian Gore, Moss Nthla, Brigalia Bam and Lindiwe Mazibuko.

“These hypocrites and Pharisees in priestly collars parade as men of God seek who nothing but the control of the judiciary and the country,” he said.

“All South Africans should be concerned about the dangerous situation we are heading towards. The core principles about separation of powers between the judiciary, legislature and the executive are being gradually weakened.  

“More concerning for me as a person who fought for this democracy is how the judiciary is now in the position where they are beyond reproach and the judges in this country are continuously taking extra powers to themselves to the detriment of legitimate democratic processes.”

The former president claimed there was an “emergence of a judicial dictatorship in SA. This, like the injustice of apartheid, will not last as there are many like me who still stand for true freedom and democracy. We have in SA today the gradual entrenchment of the counter-majoritarian problem”.

Zuma said: “Unfortunately, when people rise up against this judicial corruption, our young democracy will unravel and many democratic gains will be lost in the ashes that will be left of what used to be our democratic state.

“Many who profess to be acting in the interests of democracy will leave for their wealth destinations abroad as many of them hold dual citizenship.

“The stooges of these so-called defenders of democracy will be left with us battling to rebuild our country again.”

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