'There is no court that doesn’t know his name': Political analysts unpack Zuma's latest statement

Two political analysts shared their thoughts on the latest developments in former president Jacob Zuma's legal battles

26 March 2021 - 19:26
By aron hyman AND Aron Hyman
Former president Jacob Zuma. File photo.
Image: Alon Skuy/Sunday Times Former president Jacob Zuma. File photo.

Former president Jacob Zuma has "immense potential to rattle" the political status quo in SA but will probably not succeed, a political analyst said.

He was responding to Zuma throwing down the gauntlet with his ominous statement on Thursday, saying he would not subject himself to “an oppressive and unjust court system”.

His 2,000-word statement pre-empted a judgment by the Constitutional Court after it  heard submissions from state capture commission counsel Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, who called for the former president to be jailed over his refusal to testify at the commission.

Two political analysts shared their thoughts with Sunday Times Daily on the latest developments.

Prof Lesiba Teffo, political analyst from the Institute for African Renaissance Studies, said: “In the past almost 15 years [Zuma] has used a strategy that sought to appeal everything that the laws of the land allowed or made it possible that one could appeal. There is no court that doesn’t know his name, and the worst thing is that this is one president that the courts have literally over the past 15 years been seized with his name in matters and I find that regrettable.”

He said that if there were another court to appeal to higher than the Constitutional Court, “I have no doubt he would appeal to that”.

Teffo said that Zuma was trying to “Mandela-fy” himself by echoing the Rivona Trial statement that “if needs be, let me go to jail” as he questions the independence of the judiciary, especially the independence of the Constitutional Court.

“He’s elevating himself above almost all of us with an attitude of, 'By the way, look at yourself vis-à-vis my contribution to the struggle. Am I really worthy of the treatment you are giving me?

“Supposing we were unfair to him as the nation, why would it be him? Because we have three more presidents enjoying their retirements who are not subject to that. He must pause and be honest with himself and interrogate himself and say, 'Why me? Could it be something wrong with me?'

“If he were honest with himself he would know without any fear of contradiction that he didn’t cover himself in glory, hence his experience now,” said Teffo.

Asked whether Zuma had calculated correctly that he had enough supporters willing to fight on his behalf, Teffo said: “He has immense potential to rattle the country, let’s not underestimate that. Win? He will not.”

He added that while Zuma had people ready to battle on his behalf, “by far the strongest sentiment of society is that people want a prosperous, inclusive, working, democracy, and they will defend that democracy by all means possible”.

“But, he has the potential to take us 10 to 15 years back. Part of his strategy is to push us to the precipice, hoping that there could be a political solution,” he said.

Constitutional law expert Prof Pierre de Vos said that Zuma shouldn't really have to be in a position of power in this matter.

“The people with the institutional power is the government of the day, and the governing party in government. So as long as they are willing to exercise that power there shouldn't be any issue. Ultimately, this is a question of whether the government of the day is willing to enforce the law,” he said.

Boiled down to its simplest parts, De Vos said: “It's like with any criminal case. The court hears the evidence. If guilty, they make a finding — and if it's imprisonment then the police and prison authorities enforce the order. It shouldn't be different in this case.

“We have once before had a former head of state refusing to obey an order to appear before a commission, PW Botha. But he obviously had no legitimacy and in the end was given a suspended sentence, so the dynamics are not the same.

“The courts are doing what they are supposed to do, they are following what the law says. The question is what the political branches of government will back up the constitution and the court. If they don't then there’s clearly a crisis.”